Return of Them Mushrooms
By Caroline Nyanga
When they first sang, their hit song Jambo Bwana, it was probably a patriotic duty to make tourists feel welcome in the country.
One of the refrains, Hakuna Matata, went on to become an advertising slogan for the tourism industry.
That was in 1980 and almost three decades later, Them Mushrooms, is still enthralling to listen to.
Through the years, the band founded by three brothers has gone through transformation and a recording hiatus.
The bandleader Katana Juma says the group is back with ‘killer’ tunes.
Though the group has been active in the entertainment scene mostly through the Coast night, they have not released new songs for a while.
The group says they have completed working on their anticipated two albums, New Zilizopendwa and Original Mushroom each comprising 14 tracks.
"The compilation was done by last October and now fans can listen to their favourite beats," says bandleader John Katana.
The band promises an added musical touch to the songs that have been redone.
"Our new style of music, which features chakacha, nzele, and reggae among other Costal genres, is unique in the sense that it is different from what other Kenyan artistes have released in the past," he says.
Katana says the band is back to reclaim its spot in the local music industry having been away doing shows abroad.
In 2002, the group changed its name to Uyoga, a tag local fans had a problem getting used to. The group later reverted to its old name after prodding from its local fans, says Katana.
Change of name
"We realised we would be in a better position to capture the local audience under our old name," he says.
He says the band changed its name to Uyoga as a marketing strategy outside the country.
"We acquired Uyoga an African name when we started touring Europe, the Middle East and the Far East- because we felt that an African name would sell us better in those markets," he says.
Katana says the band is now doing public shows as opposed to performing at corporate events, and holding concerts at various hotels in the country.
He dismisses claims that at some point ‘Them Mushrooms’ had hit a rough patch and were contemplating quitting music due to dwindling fortunes.
"We have not quit music. We are still very much in the game. For us, music is a long journey and our fans should brace themselves for more surprises," he says.
He says it is normal for musicians to take a creative break to ‘recollect their thoughts’.
"We believe in taking our time and coming up with the right product as opposed to doing things in a huff and giving our fans sub-standard music," he says.
Katana, who is also the founder of the popular ‘Coast Nite’ theme held every year, says the band has grown a lot musically.
"We want to assure our fans that we are back in full force and we would also like to ask them to give us the support," he says.
‘Them Mushrooms’ have churned out hits that many consider evergreen. The famous Jambo Bwana, recorded in 1980, was the band’s first hit and remains one of Kenya’s most known songs abroad.
As part of their re-invention strategy, the band released the first edition of their popular Zilizopendwa collection in 1991 and others in 1992 and 2000.
Founded in 1972, the group rose to fame with a distinct blend of taarab and sega folk music, before taking to chakacha and spicing it up with rap and hip-hop beats.
Currently the group comprises six members, brothers Billy Saro Harrison, John Katana Harrison and George Ziro Harrison as well as new members Willy Mabisi, Yusuf Muriera and Willy Tusi Mramba.
Initially when the group started out it comprised of five brothers — Saro, Katana, Ziro, Teddy Kalanda Harrison (retired) and Dennis Kalume Harrison who died in 1992.
Having been around for a while they are glad that they have been able to keep up with the changing music trend including competition, which they term healthy.
" For us sky is the limit. The fact that we have been able to survive this long is a sign that we are in the right direction," says Katana.
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