The Lion King Music and Songs
Ishmael explains that the a core ingredient lies in its “South African energy”. A major part of this comes from the percussion, which is housed both in the orchestra pit and in two boxes either side of the auditorium. He explains that director Julie Taymor wanted the audience to be “enveloped by Africa”; and so they are.
Percussionist Damien Manning has been a regular with the London production since 2009. He explains the attention to detail of every instrument, to ensure an authentic sound. “I play nearly 40 instruments over the course of the show. Some of the traditional African drums, such as the djun djun and djembe, can be traced back to the 13th century. They go back to the very foundation of music.”
This feeling of togetherness is echoed in the words. A range of African languages including Swahili, Xhosa and Zulu, are heard alongside English. “It all has meaning,” says Ishmael, “and even though the audience may not understand the words they feel them. We take care to ensure the actors understand what they’re singing, so they can communicate these ideas.”
He admits that, when he was first approached about getting involved with The Lion King, he was planning to give up on musical theatre to pursue composition. Did he ever imagine that 24 years later he would still be working on it? “Never. It’s crazy – and for me it’s a testament to the quality of both the production and the music. I couldn’t do it otherwise. And it’s not like it’s frozen in aspic, it’s an ongoing process.”
Manning too says he never stops finding new things to enjoy in music that he now knows like the back of his hand. “From where I sit in the box I can see the audience, I can feel their reactions. That emotion is amazing… This music touches us like nothing else can.”