By CAROLINE NYANGA
Talk of tenacity in Kenya’s music industry and Kenya’s Zilopendwa (golden oldies) band, Them Mushrooms, comes to mind.
The band made its entry into the music three decades ago, and the fact that they still make songs that resonate with a variety of audiences, put them in a class of their own.
In 2009, the band formerly known as Uyoga, launched two albums, New Zilizopendwa and Original Mushroom, proving yet again they are still a force to reckon in Kenya’s entertainment scene.
“We have mastered the art of this game hence the ability to maintain the required standards. Ours is to give fans quality music with lasting messages that is both entertaining and educative,” says the bandleader Harrison Katana.
He says some of the band’s recent releases such as Jaza Mwenyewe and Zilizopendwa Raha comprise strong Coastal influence including beats from chakacha, and nzele.
The singles recorded at Them Mushrooms Sound Lab are mainly of Zilizopendwa genre, something he describes as unique and different from what other Kenyan artistes have done in the past.
Of the band’s hits, none boasts massive popularity than Jambo Bwana that sold over 200,000 copies between 1982 and 1987 getting platinum certification in Kenya.
As a result of its popularity, many other bands covered their songs, in some cases with similar success. The Safari Sound Band version of Jambo Bwana, in particular, is one of the most played songs in tourist venues in East Africa.
Some even say the Swahili phrase hakuna matata in Disney’s classic, The Lion King, might have been borrowed from Jambo Bwana.
Them Mushrooms version and cover versions of some of its popular hits are found in many compilation of African pop music.
“Although we have been out of the public glare for sometime, does not mean that we are down or out of the game. For us, music is a long journey that requires time to come up with the right product as opposed to doing things in a huff and ending up with a bad product,” says Katana.
While admitting their focus is now more on performing than recording, Katana bemoans the high incidence of music piracy in Kenya, which he says is part of the reason they decided to concentrate on shows.
About rumours that the band’s change of name was because of a breakup, Katana says: “It is a normal thing for a band to split at some point. As you know, it is not easy dealing with adults of different personalities who have different opinions. Like the saying goes too many cooks spoil the broth.”
Although the group started off as Them Mushrooms gaining immense fame among local fans, it later changed its name to Uyoga in 2002.
However, it reverted to its original name during a Coastal region theme night held in October 2009.
Their decision to go back to their original name, according to Katana, was because their new identity had caused confusion among fans.
“We realised we would be in a better position to capture the local audience using our original name,” he says. Katana says the band has gone back to doing public shows as opposed to being confined to corporate events.
“Our fans can find us at various places and get the best entertainment comprising real African music,” he says.
Them mushrooms has churned out numerous hits that remain popular to date. The world famous Jambo Bwana, recorded in 1980 under the leadership of Teddy Harrison Kalanda, was the bands first hit and remains one of Kenya’s most known songs abroad.
So well-liked was the song that Boney M, a German vocal group, is known to have played their version of the song.
Founded in 1972, the group rose to fame with its distinct blend of Taraab and Sega folk music, before taking to Chakacha spiced up with rap and hip-hop beats.
Credited for initiating the popular Coast theme nights, Them Mushrooms initially comprised five brothers – Sarro, Katana, Ziro, and Teddy Kalanda Harrison (retired) and Dennis Kalume Harrison (died in 1992).
Today, however, its band members comprise Eddy Dena, George Zero Harrison, Billy Saro Harrison and John Katana Harrison.
Zilopendwa Them Mushrooms