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Them Mushrooms – Biography

Who are Themmushrooms?

Every music culture has its story of success and endurance. In Kenya, Themmushrooms has outlived many groups without losing their focus as a creative and performing band. Five brothers Teddy Kalanda Harrison, Billy Sarro, Harrison, George Zirro Harrison, John Katana Harrison, and Dennis Kalume Harrison initially founded the group in 1972. To date, Themmushrooms is one of Kenya‟s most successful bands in a well-rounded sense. Their thumbprints are evident in every discipline that constitutes the music business in Kenya. They have also helped launch and re-launch recording careers for other local artists.

The Formation

The group was founded in 1969 as Avenida Success. In 1972 the group was renamed Them Mushrooms, from the mystical magic mushroom species, that grow on wildly across the depths of Africa’s rainforests. They are seen as East Africa’s premier band. This group rose to fame with a distinct blend of Taarab and Sega/Benga folk music, before taking to Chakacha and spicing it up with rap and hip-hop beats. African influences included Franco of TPOK Jazz from Congo, Egypt 80 and Manu Dibango of Cameroon while in the international front it was Otis Redding, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Kool & the Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, and also Madonna.

About Jambo Bwana

Jambo Bwana – (“Hello, mister in Swahili) – often referred to as Kenya Hakuna Matata from refrain lines penned by Teddy Kalanda,– was the bands biggest hit recorded in 1982 earned the group silver, gold, and platinum status (discs) for sales exceeding 200,000. It also entered charts in seven different versions, the most notable done by Europe‟s famous 1970s disco group Boney M. The band’s slogan Hakuna Matata was adopted in a recording by Jimmy Cliff, which was also used as a theme song on the box-office hit movie Lion King. Themmushrooms has recorded signature tunes for the BBC radio (UK), KBC radio (Kenya) and has produced jingles for many Kenyan Corporates. A British film producer of a documentary on Kenyan athletes‟ likewise featured the band’s composition Pongezi Wanariadha.

The Loss of one Brother

The group originally played the beach hotel circuit in Mombasa until 1985, with its coastal music influences. They moved to Nairobi the year after. Ndogo Ndogo – the strongest track on the 1985 album New Horizons, was adapted as the soundtrack of a Kiswahili language film titled Mahari – produced by Paul Singh – a Kenyan filmmaker. In 1988 Them Mushrooms released Ukimwi ni Hatari and Beware of Aids, making the band the first to have recorded and released songs on HIV/AIDS awareness in Africa. The group almost disbanded in 1992 when its drummer and songwriter Dennis Kalume Harrison died and George Zirro left the band to pursue a solo career, but pressure from their late (mother) Mrs. Mandi Harrison and fans brought the band together again. In 2002 the band was renamed Uyoga, but the name “Themmushrooms” has since been taken back. The remaining brothers have recruited other musicians to complete the band‟s line up.

Toys of Death

Toys of death a single released in 1998, earned the group commendation from the International Coalition against Landmines. Through 2005 and 2006, Them Mushrooms was involved in the Afro-fusion project Spotlight on Kenyan Music (sponsored by the French embassy and Alliance Française in Nairobi). The band rehearsed with and backed-up in concert, a total of twenty-two (22) up-and-coming Kenyan musicians. These musicians went on to record compilation albums, which were released on the world market. The band has performed in every imaginable venue in Kenya, among these, Kenya‟s dusty market venues in remote districts. Outside Kenya, Them Mushrooms has toured in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. To date, Them Mushrooms have not only survived tragedy and changing times but are an institution that has spawned musical creativity in Kenya and East Africa as a whole.

Nzele Music Projects

When talking about Them Mushrooms – Kenya’s and, East Africa‟s popular music group – their hit song Jambo Bwana comes to mind unbidden. The 1980 composition was for years, the band‟s most distinctive legacy. Besides its simple and catchy lyrics, its beats and rhythm appeal as if mystically to fans globally. But in a new quest to return to their roots, Them Mushrooms has now created „NZELE‟ music, which essentially borrows its rhythmic beats from Mwanzele, a traditional beat from Kenya‟s‟ coast. Nzele‟s most distinct facet is the „Call‟ and „Answer‟ style. This involves the lead singer, who lyrically “calls” out and backing vocals “answer” in a chorus response. The instrumental accompaniment revolves around the bass guitar, drums, percussion, keyboards, flute, horns (sax/trumpet) and what the band refers to as a “stinging” guitar strum. Themmushrooms ‟ Nzele beat is unique owing to its indigenous influence, which is artistically creative and innovative. Their new Nzele style compositions reflect a whole new dimension for the group‟s musical identity. The direction the band has now adopted ushers in a new chapter for a group that maintains a tradition of recording „evergreen‟ and somewhat timeless productions with uncanny consistency.

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Their Accolades

Silver Disc” – 1982 for hit song Jambo Bwana.

Gold Disc” – 1984 after Jambo Bwana sales topped 100,000 units mark.

Platinum Disc” – 1987, when Jambo Bwana sales topped 200,000 units.

The Battle of Kenyan Bands Trophy” –1987, awarded after the band was voted number one at the battle of Kenyan bands concert held in Nairobi.

“Kenyan Singer/ Artistes of the Year Runners-up Trophy” – 1989.

“Certificate – (from the International Coalition to Ban Landmines) – 1998, awarded for the band’s anti landmines song titled “Toys of Death”.

M-Net 2000 Award” – January 2000, courtesy of South African M-NET television channel. The band was voted Kenya’s most favorite band.

Kenyan Band of the Decade Trophy” – February 2002, awarded by the Kenya Music Composers Association.

Best AIDs awareness song Runners-up Trophy” – February 2002, awarded for the best AIDS awareness song by the Kenya Music Composers Association.

Kisima Awards” – June 2004, for the best group from Kenya‟s Coast (coastal music category).

Legends Award” – October 2012 by Florida Night Club, Nairobi – Kenya.

Lifetime Achievement Award” – November 2012 at the Coast Music Awards

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Their Discography

1980 – “Jambo Bwana” single
1983 – “Mama Africa”
1985 – “New Horizons” LP
1987 – “At The Carnivore” LP
1988 – “Going Places” LP
1989 – “Almost There” LP
1990 – “Where We Belong” LP
1991 – “Zilizopendwa 91” CD Album
1992 – “Zilizopendwa 92” CD Album
1996 – “Kazi Ni Kazi” CD Album
1997 – “Toys of Death” Single
1998 – “Ni Yiyo” CD Album
1998 – “Oh! Twalia” Single
1999 – “Jambo Bwana” CD Album
2000 – “Zilizopendwa 2000” CD Album
2004 – “Uyoga” CD Album
2008 – “Medawase” CD Single
2009 – “Jaza Mwenyewe” CD Single and video
2011 – “Zilizopendwa Raha” CD Single
2012 – “Asanteni Mashabiki” CD Single
2015 – “Ni Jumamosi” CD Single

World Performances

Them Mushrooms has had performances in Dubai/ Abu Dhabi/ Al Ain and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, Bujumbura in Burundi, Arriccia in Italy, Addis Ababa/ Dire Dawa/ Woliso/ Jimma and Sodere in Ethiopia, Djibouti city in Djibouti, Copenhagen in Denmark, Gaborone in Botswana, Kampala in Uganda, Zurich in Switzerland, the Africa Center, London in Britain, Mount Abu in India, Manama in Bahrain, Rabat in Morocco, Mahe in Seychelles, Dar-es-Salaam/ Arusha/ Moshi in Tanzania and Athens in Greece. When not touring, Them Mushrooms perform locally adhering to a tight schedule of between three to four shows in a week.

Themmushrooms Mtaani

This is a project by themmushrooms band under the leadership of Mr. John Katana which is dedicated to their Kenyan Loyal Fans. A community service based campaign with a live performance to the nearest joint on every Kenyan county starting with Nairobi County. You will be able to catch a glimpse and perhaps have a one on one with them as you also watch them perform and entertain with their zilizopendwa songs every Thursday evening till late at the Choices Pub and Restaurant.

Source: John Katana

Also Search for: References from;

  1. Daily Nation, 5 June 2009: Three sing their way to glory
  2. The Standard, 27 August 2009: Why do bands break up?
  3. Them Mushrooms
  4. Kenya: Journey through a rhythm nation, BBC News World: Africa. 30 August 1999.
  5. Museke: Uyoga
  6. The Standard, 7 June 2009: Them Mushrooms back with a bang
  7. Big Q Entertainment Unlimited Archived 23 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine.

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