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Teddy Kalanda not about to hang his boots four decades on

By | June 4th 2011

By Caroline Nyanga

When Them Mushrooms, led by Teddy Kalanda first released Hakuna Matata, it was probably a patriotic duty to make tourists feel welcome.The phrase Hakuna Matata went on to become an advertising slogan for the tourism industry. That was 1980 and more than four decades later, Them Mushrooms is still enthralling to listen to.

Besides Hakuna Matata, the band’s other popular songs include Nyambura, Jambo Bwana, Mwikali Wakwa and Badilisha.

Late last year, the group founded by Teddy Kalanda in 1972, released two new albums, New Zilizopendwa and Original Mushroom.

- Teddy Kalanda of Them Mushrooms during his hey days.

Although Kalanda retired from stage performances in 2001, he did not quit music and is now a producer in Mombasa.

"My aim is to nurture young musicians who are the future of this nation," he says.

Having lost his right sight in 1988, as a result of a retina detachment that saw him undergo various operations at Kenyatta National Hospital in vain, Kalanda did not give up.
Throughout his music career he operated using one eye, but stillchurned out hit after hit. He coined himself the name Bwana Matata due to his ability to play the saxophone well.

"I have had sight problems ever since I was a child. Because of this I must use spectacles for the rest of my life and I have learned to live with it."

Music producer

When not playing on stage Kalanda spends his free time producing music.

"This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child. I felt incomplete as a musician performing on stage only, I needed to learn the production part of it."

In 2007, Kalanda joined Florida Night Club Mombasa as a general manager. Two years later, as fate would have it, he lost sight in his only remaining eye.

He resigned and sought treatment at Kikuyu and Upper Hill Eye Clinic where he underwent five operations on both eyes. He eventually could see, though not so well.
But despite the recurring problem, Kalanda is determined to do more as far as music is concerned.
"Although Them Mushroom or Uyoga has not been active, I believe it is just a matter of time before they come up with something good. I believe music is a long journey hence the need for one to take time and come up with the right product," says the musician, who occasionally performs with the band.

His two sons Rixie Matano Harrison and Jahlou Harrison, who is based in Italy, are also musicians.

Born in Mombasa, Kalanda began singing at the age of ten.
As a pupil he was a member of the Percussion Band where he took great interest in playing guitar.

In 1966, together with his schoolmates at St Georges High Giriama, he formed his first musical group Air Bonanza that specialised in entertaining fellow students during special occasions. As an A level student at Allidina Visram High School he formed a family band, Avedina Success, which performed at wedding parties and other social functions.

- Teddy Kalanda on stage. [PICTURES: COURTESY]

"In 1972 I played briefly with the college band at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where I was studying Political Science, Philosophy and German.

In October of the same year, he dropped out of college after the death of his father and was offered a job as a stores clerk at the Bamburi Cement Factory where his father used to work.

In December 1972, he teamed up with his younger brothers, John Katana Harrison, George Zirro Harrison, Billy Sarro Harrison and two friends, Arthur Okoth and Pritt Nyale initiating Them Mushrooms.
In 1974 they were contracted to perform in various local hotels within Mombasa where they played cover versions of American and European chart music. "We realised we could make more money while working for less hours playing for tourists in the beach hotels.

In February 1980, they recorded two singles, Kenya Hakuna Matata and Bonde Kwa Bonde at the Polygram studio, Nairobi. Hakuna Matata remains the group’s biggest seller to date, having won a Silver Disc for sales of over 30,000 copies in 1982, Gold for sales exceeding 60,000 copies in 1984 and Platinum in 1987 for sales of over 100,000 copies. The same song has been redone by musicians like Boney M, Frank Zander, Barbara Froger, Bo Katzman, Samba Salad, The Belgian Air force, and Shimelis Ararso of Ethiopia to name a few. It has also been used as a soundtrack in several movies and documentaries, including Lion King.

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