We translated The Lion King’s ‘Circle of Life’ lyrics into English – and they’re not what you’d expect

22 July 2019, 17:29 | Updated: 18 September 2023, 16:28

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By Maddy Shaw Roberts

It’s one of the greatest Disney songs in history, and Elton John and Lebo M. have just breathed new life into it. But what do the opening Zulu lyrics mean in English?

‘The Circle of Life’, the opening call in The Lion King, marks the moment the young Simba is held up by Rafiki for all the animals of Pride Rock to see.

And it perfectly sets the tone for the remarkable African-influenced score for the Disney classic. While ‘The Circle of Life’ is mostly sung in English, the chorus number opens with and is underpinned by a few memorable lines of Zulu.

“It was unusual for them to suddenly have an African voice over the opening titles,” composer Hans Zimmer told Classic FM at the film’s press junket in London.

Read more: What does ‘Hakuna Matata’ in The Lion King actually mean?

The Lion King from ginalucianiflute

So, what are the opening lyrics to ‘Circle of Life’?

The lyrics, written in Zulu and sung by the great South African composer Lebo M., read as follows:

‘Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama.

‘Nants ingonyama bagithi baba Sithi uhhmm ingonyama Ingonyama Siyo Nqoba Ingonyama Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala’

Carmen Twillie, Lebo M. - Circle Of Life (Official Video from "The Lion King")

And here’s how they translate:

‘Here comes a lion, father, Oh yes it’s a lion.

‘Here comes a lion, father, Oh yes it’s a lion. A lion we’re going to conquer, a lion, a lion and a leopard come to this open place.’

... that’s it.


Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, who play Timon and Pumbaa in the remake of the Disney movie, rinsed the translation in a recent interview on Capital FM, Classic FM’s sister station, calling the lyrics ‘lazily written’ and saying they ‘weren’t hugely creative’.

They might have a point. Won’t stop us from singing along to it, though...