Lebohang "Lebo M." Morake is a South African singer-songwriter, composer, and musician, most famous for arranging and performing music for The Lion King movies and stage productions. He was recommended to Disney by Hans Zimmer, the score composer of The Lion King, and was later hired to form and conduct the African choir that sang for the movies. His voice is the first voice heard in the beginning of the film, singing the now famous chant (often considered synonymous with the film's image in popular culture) over the opening sequence. He also contributed to the sequel to the film's soundtrack, Rhythm of the Pride Lands, and the film's direct-to-video sequel The Lion King II: Simba's Pride.
Morake was born on May 20, 1964 in Apartheid-ridden Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. At age nine, Morake left school, and began his career by performing in nightclubs. There, he was inspired by the songs of the diamond mine workers and Zulu music, and aspired to be an entertainer. At the age of 13, he was the youngest nightclub performer at the top club, The Pelican, and was approached by a music producer in the audience, who invited him to record a single.
In 1978, he left their home for Lesotho, where he and his best friend, Vernon, entertained tourists at the Victoria Hotel. They remained there in exile, until they met U.S. Ambassador Tim Thahane, who recognized their talent and drive. Thahane arranged for Lebo and Vernon to take admission exams at the Duke Ellington School of Music in Washington, D.C. They passed the exams, and attended Duke Ellington for three years, before setting off to continue their studies at the New Metropolitan School of Arts in New York. While attending school, they performed in a band, and had several gigs at nightclubs, where upon an acquaintance's suggestion, Morake left for Los Angeles in 1983 to fulfill his musical dreams.
At 18 years old, Morake began begging on downtown street corners until he landed his first job at McDonald's, and enrolled in Los Angeles City College. While attending classes, Lebo worked parking cars, washing dishes, tending a hot dog stand, and cleaning church floors. After meeting bassist Del Atkins, Morake returned to Africa to perform in the musical, Buwa, only to return to Los Angeles to assemble an African choir for the Academy Awards' "Cry Freedom" nomination where it received a standing ovation. From there, Morake went on to write, arrange, and conduct music for the film, The Power of One, where he met composer, Hans Zimmer.
While performing in South Africa in the musical, Sarafina!, Morake received a call from Zimmer to come work with him on The Lion King in Los Angeles. In 1992, he was later hired to form and conduct the African choir that sang for the movie. His voice is the first voice heard in the film, in which he is singing the now-famous "Nants Ingonyama" chant (often considered synonymous with the film's image in popular culture) over the opening sequence.
After the success of The Lion King, Morake created the soundtrack, Rhythm of the Pride Lands, and worked on The Lion King stage musical productions where he received a Tony nomination. Also, he founded the Lebo M Foundation and Till Dawn Entertainment.
Lebo M has composed, arranged, performed and produced music for the following films:
- The Lion King (soundtrack)
- The Lion King II: Simba's Pride
- The Lion King 1½
- The Lion King (musical) - singer at One by One
- Disney's Animal Kingdom: The First Adventure
- Rhythm of the Pride Lands (1995)
- Return to Pride Rock: Songs Inspired by Disney's The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998)