Growing up, I sang it as “NAHHHHHT-SYLVANIAAAA!” You sang something even sillier. But we’re adults now, and we can learn the actual words to the opening of “Circle of Life” from Disney’s The Lion King. Then we will sound much cooler when we lift something into the air like Simba. Here’s how to sing the song, and what it means.
The opening lines, and the rest of the non-English lines, were written in the Zulu language by South African composer Lebo M.
How to sing it
The opening line is transcribed as Nants’ ingonyama, bakithi, baba. Sithi hu ‘ngonyama. The refrain is Ingonyama nengwe ‘namabala. But unless you’re already familiar with the pronunciation rules of Zulu, that won’t do you much good.
The official lyric video above, from the Broadway production of The Lion King, spreads out the written words in time with the singing. It’s still a mouthful to a non-Zulu speaker, but the synched timing will help you learn. If you need it spelled out a little more, have one of the film’s singers teach you.
In the video, Lion King singer Ron Kunene teaches kids how to sing each line, piece by piece. He points out a few particularly important sounds, including the click sound of a certain q.
What the ‘Circle Of Life’ opening lyrics mean
The lyrics, like so much poetry, have some nuance that’s lost in English. The prosaic translation is: “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.”
But according to ScreenRant, a more appropriate translation is “Here comes the Lion.”
There’s a more generic Zulu word for “a lion,” but ingonyama means both lion and king. “A lion and a leopard” can also be interpreted as “a lion wearing the spots of a leopard” — like a regal cloak. The Broadway lyric video above translates the line as “The royal lion wears his leopard spots.”
A captioned recording of an entirely Zulu version of “Circle of Life” translates the opening line as “Here’s the King.” It identifies the refrain as an “admiration of something amazing.” It’s all very grand, a call to the animals of the land to come and see the king who will conquer. Super messianic.
Now go find a cat or small child to raise above your head, and sing.