Circle of Life

"Circle of Life"[note 1] is a song from The Walt Disney Company 1994 animated film The Lion King. Composed by Elton John, with lyrics by Tim Rice,[3] the song was performed by Carmen Twillie (the deep female lead vocals) and Lebo M. (opening Zulu language vocals) as the film's opening song.[4] In an interview, Rice said he was amazed at the speed with which John composed: "I gave him the lyrics at the beginning of the session at about two in the afternoon. By half-past three, he'd finished writing and recording a stunning demo."[5] Elton John sang a pop version (with alternative lyrics) of the song with the London Community Gospel Choir, which was included in the film's soundtrack and made into a music video.

"Circle of Life"
Circle of Life.jpg
Artwork for UK CD single, also used internationally
Single by Elton John
from the album The Lion King: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Released9 August 1994
StudioBOP Recording Studios (Mmabatho, South Africa)[1]
Composer(s)Elton John
Lyricist(s)Tim Rice
Elton John singles chronology
"Can You Feel the Love Tonight"
"Circle of Life"
Audio sample
Film version
Audio sample
Broadway version

"Circle of Life" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1994, along with two other songs from The Lion King: "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight",[6][7] the latter of which won the award.[6] "Circle of Life" was also nominated for a Song of the Year Grammy. The song reached No. 11 in the UK and No. 18 in the US and is featured frequently in attractions based on The Lion King, such as Disney theme parks and parades. Michael Crawford sang it as part of a medley for The Disney Album in 2001.

The song was featured in Disney's 2019 photorealistic computer-animated remake of The Lion King and was used in the first trailer of the film, a near shot-for-shot remake of the opening of the original animated film.[8] This new version of the song was performed by Brown Lindiwe Mkhize, the actress who performed as Rafiki in the stage adaptation of the movie in London from 2005 to 2018.[9] However, the new version also retains the original Zulu opening vocals by Lebo M. from the 1994 film.

Theatrical versionEdit

Rafiki lifts Simba into the air with Mufasa and Sarabi looking on, in the West End transfer of The Lion King musical.

Act IEdit

In the theatrical adaptation, the opening sequence is noticeably different from the opening of the film. For example, the song is sung by Rafiki instead of an off-screen female narrator.

With the sun rising over the Pride Lands, Rafiki commences the start of the production by singing the opening chant of the song and summoning the animals of the Pride Lands for the presentation of baby Simba. As the first two verses of the musical number end, a representation of Pride Rock appears on stage carrying its two reigning rulers, Sarabi cradling the small puppet representing her son in her arms with Mufasa alongside her. As the choir chants excitedly in the background, Rafiki accompanies the monarch and his consort to the top of Pride Rock to bless the cub before raising him high in the air, singing joyfully alongside the chorus as the gathered animals bow before their new prince.

Act IIEdit

At the end of Act II, Simba's friends and family acknowledge him as the rightful king after Scar's defeat. Rafiki crowns Simba with the mantle of kingship after his victory and Simba ascends Pride Rock. There he gives a mighty roar which echoes across the whole kingdom, and the animals come back to the Pride Lands to recognise and salute Simba as the rightful king. The musical ends as Rafiki presents Simba and Nala's newborn cub to all of the animals, followed by a blackout that finishes Act II and leads to the curtain call at the end of the performance.

The assembly of animals that appear are slightly different from the beginning of Act I. There are no wildebeests hippo and adult elephant, only two zebras instead of three, nine gazelles instead of twelve, and half of the bird performers instead of four. Only the baby elephant, the rhino, the giraffes, three cranes, the Cape buffalo, the cheetah, and the birds appear as poles on cranes as kites.

Other versionsEdit

The song was re-recorded in 2003 by the Disney Channel Circle of Stars, a group of actors and actresses who have appeared in Disney Channel television series and original movies, for the album Disneymania 2. The line-up was significantly different when their next rerecording, "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes", was released two years later.

In 2017 American boyband 98° recorded a cover version of the song to help promote a re-release of The Lion King on Blu-ray as part of the Disney Signature Collection.[10] The single was released as a digital download on 22 September 2017.[11]

The song was remixed by Mat Zo which was released in the album Dconstructed on 22 April 2014.[12]

Opening of songEdit

The song is well known for its opening line, sung by South African composer Lebo M. in Zulu language. Due to the difficulty to pronounce the lyrics for English speakers, they are often mispronounced. The Zulu version of the lyrics are:

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba
Sithi uhm ingonyama
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba
Sithi uhhmm ingonyama
Ingonyama siyo nqoba
Ingonyama nengw enamabala

Which translates to English as:

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[13]

In popular cultureEdit

Due to the film's universal impact on pop culture, the song is often referenced in other media.

"Circle of Life" was referenced in the song "Colors of the Wind" which was composed by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz for Disney’s 33rd animated motion picture Pocahontas. The song's lyrics are about animism and respecting nature.

The opening to The Lion King was parodied in an episode of the 1990s cartoon Animaniacs, in which the theme of "Circle of Life" was parodied with "Surprises in Life", with vocals by Jim Cummings and Cree Summer as lead singer.

The Tenth Doctor finds himself subconsciously quoting "Circle of Life" during a confrontation with the Sycorax leader in the 2005 Christmas special of the revived Doctor Who series, "The Christmas Invasion".

In one of Disney's many self-references, "The Circle of Life" appeared as a false beginning of the film Chicken Little, when Buck was trying to open the movie.

In Pixar’s 1998 film A Bug's Life Hopper explains to Flik’s colony that his protection in exchange for food is one of those "Circle of Life" kind of deals.

South Park did a parody song called "The Circle of Poo" that shows the endless circle of food and defecation in the episode "A Very Crappy Christmas".

It is currently the main theme song for Disney's Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World. Epcot featured a cinema-type film called Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable from 1995 to 2018, with Timon, Pumbaa, and Simba discussing environmental topics.

At the 2011 White House Correspondents' Association, President Barack Obama jokingly claimed he was going to show his long-form birth video, spoofing a Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories that alleged he was born outside of the United States, rather than in his actual birthplace of Honolulu, Hawaii. The opening chant was played from the film, and Simba was seen being lifted to the skies.[14]

New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes started using the song as his walk-up music during the 2016 Major League Baseball season.[15]

Houston Astros outfielder Michael Brantley began using the song as his walk up music after the All Star Break in the 2019 Major League Baseball season, debuting the song in what would be his 10 major league multi-HR game.[16]

The Japanese band Da Pump recorded a cover version of the song in 2003.

It is used in the Modern Family pilot when Mitch and Cam introduce Lily to the family, and then again later in the series to introduce Hayley and Dylan's twins.

On 28 May 2017, the song was used in Stadio Olimpico during Francesco Totti's farewell, after the winning match of A.S. Roma against Genoa C.F.C. for 3–2.

The opening sequence was parodied during Robin's nightmare sequence in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.

Charts and certificationsEdit


  1. ^ The Hal Leonard Corporation publishes the song by the fuller title of "Circle of Life (with Nants'Ingonyama).".[2] It appears on The Legacy Collection reissue and the soundtrack of the 2019 remake as "Circle of Life / Nants' Ingonyama".
  1. ^ Josh Wilmes, ed. (24 May 1994). "The Lion King: Film Notes". Retrieved 3 July 2011.
  2. ^ Viagas, Robert (ed.). The Playbill Broadway Yearbook: June 2008 – May 2009: Fifth Annual Edition. Hal Leonard Corporation. p.174
  3. ^ Rosenthal 2001, p. 379.
  4. ^ Rosental 2001, p. 380.
  5. ^ Walt Disney Company. (1998). The new illustrated treasury of Disney songs (5th ed.). Milwaukee, Wisc.: Hal Leonard. p. 19. ISBN 0-7935-9365-4.
  6. ^ a b Willis 2000, p. 52.
  7. ^ "1994 Academy Awards Nominees and Winners by Category". Retrieved 3 July 2011.
  8. ^ Child, Ben (28 November 2018). "Is Disney's remake of The Lion King too nostalgic?". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  9. ^ "Disney Reveals the Tracklist For 2019 'The Lion King' Soundtrack". Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  10. ^ "98 Degrees Singing 'Circle of Life' Is the '90s Throwback We Didn't Know We Needed". Disney. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  11. ^ "Circle of Life (From "The Lion King") – Single". iTunes Store. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  12. ^ DisneyMusicVEVO (30 April 2014), DCONSTRUCTED - Circle of Life (from "The Lion King") (Mat Zo Remix), retrieved 18 July 2019
  13. ^ "We translated The Lion King's 'Circle of Life' lyrics into English – and they're not what you'd expect".
  14. ^ "Obama lampoons Trump, releases 'birth video' at annual dinner". CNN. Archived from the original on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  15. ^ "Yoenis Cespedes walks up to 'Circle of Life,' hits walk-off homer to a guy in a Simba costume". Major League Baseball. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  16. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ "The ARIA Australian Top 100 Singles Chart – Week Ending 12 Feb 1995". (original document published by ARIA). Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  18. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988–2010. Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.
  19. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  20. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  21. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 2648." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  22. ^ "Top RPM Adult Contemporary: Issue 2635." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  23. ^ "Eurochart Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 12 no. 1. 7 January 1995. p. 9. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  24. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  25. ^ "Íslenski Listinn Topp 40 (24.–29.11 '94)". Dagblaðið Vísir (in Icelandic). 24 November 1994. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  26. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Circle of Life". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  27. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 2, 1995" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40 Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  28. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  29. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life". Top 40 Singles.
  30. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  31. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life". Singles Top 100.
  32. ^ " – Elton John – Circle of Life". Swiss Singles Chart.
  33. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  34. ^ "Elton John Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  35. ^ "Elton John Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  36. ^ "Elton John Chart History (Pop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  37. ^ "RPM Top 100 Hit Tracks of 1994". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  38. ^ "RPM Top 100 AC tracks of 1994". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  39. ^ "Árslistinn 1994". Dagblaðið Vísir (in Icelandic). 2 January 1995. p. 25. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
  40. ^ "Årslista Singlar, 1994" (in Swedish). Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  41. ^ "Top 100 Singles–Jahrescharts 1995" (in German). GfK Entertainment. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  42. ^ "Årslista Singlar, 1995" (in Swedish). Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  43. ^ "Schweizer Jahreshitparade 1995" (in German). Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  44. ^ "British single certifications – Elton John – Circle of Life". British Phonographic Industry.
  45. ^ "British single certifications – Carmen Twillie – Circle of Life". British Phonographic Industry.
  46. ^ "American single certifications – Carmen Twillie – Circle of Life". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 23 March 2017. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH. 


External linksEdit