Famed for re-recording big old songs, taking their many adoring music fans down memory lane, one of the country’s most enduring bands, Them Mushrooms, is set to celebrate a milestone: its 45th anniversary in entertainment.
It will be nearly five decades down memory lane for the members of the band in December, with reflection on a career that has won them accolades, fame and glory.
The group, which has always revolved around a family whose members were born and brought up in Mombasa, is one of the longest surviving groups in Kenya.
This week, as the country prepared for the fresh presidential elections, The Mushrooms were not left behind. They enthusiastically threw in their lot with the rest of their compatriots, by doing a patriotic song Hatutaki Matata, a remix of their long-time international chart buster, Jambo Bwana.
The remix by Ted Kalanda Harrison, the oldest member of the group, is meant to appeal and rally Kenyans for peace after the elections, the original song, which was released in 1980, has become a tourism anthem, selling Kenya as a top tourist destination. It is not unusual to see tourists humming along to the tune at hotels at the coast as they savour the beautiful beaches.
Cover versions of the song have been done by several international groups, among them Boney M and Jamaican superstar Jimmy Cliff.
Them Mushrooms was formed in 1972, initially as a family band in Tudor, Mombasa, before relocating to Nairobi at the peak of its fame.
The original line-up consisted of brothers Teddy Kalanda, Billy Sarro, George Ziro (deceased), John Katana and Dennis Kalume (deceased).
Speaking to the Saturday Nation, recently, band leader John Katana recalled how they only performed part-time at the beginning as they had to concentrate on their studies.
“Since most of us were still in school, we had little time for music,” he says.
But, unlike other parents who associated music with loose morals, their parents were always supportive
“It has been a journey of ups and downs. Not an easy road of keeping together,” John Katana adds.
The group was also involved in recording signature tunes and jingles for various radio stations among them KBC, and the BBC.
Their beat has always been a blend of their coastal chakacha style and Afro-pop.
Katana recalls that one of their most popular songs of the mid-1980s was Ndogo Ndogo, from their album New Horizon released in 1985. The song was the soundtrack of a Swahili movie titled Mahari.
To most fans, the words Ndogo Ndogo were then slang for a young, good looking lady.
After several years in Mombasa, where they mainly performed at beach hotels, the group relocated to Nairobi in 1987, pitching camp at the Carnivore Restaurant. They released the album At the Carnivore.
In 1988 they released the Aids Awareness songs 'Ukimwi na Hatari' and 'Beware of Aids'.
The change of base appeared to have created room for more recordings and productions as they released a series of albums — Going Places (1988), Almost There (1989) and Where we Belong (1990).
“Being in Nairobi where there were more recording studios, it was possible to release albums annually,” Katana says. They left Carnivore at the end of 1989.
In a bid to remind fans of the popular music of the 1960s-1970s they released Zilizopendwa 91 (1991) and Zilizopendwa 92 (1992). The two albums featured cover versions of tracks by some legendary Kenyan musicians like Fundi Konde (deceased) and John Nzenze.
In 1992, drummer Dennis Kalume died after a tour of Ethiopia.
The group has toured Dubai, Burundi, Denmark, Tanzania and Seychelles, among other countries.
In 1998 they released Oh! Twalia, which was dedicated to victims of the horrific August 7 terror attack in Nairobi. “This was one of the most trying moments for us in the group,” Katana recalls.
Teddy Kalanda’s eldest son, Henry, is based in Italy where he performs with his wife, Lioness (Hannah Wakesho), under the Afreeka group.
Between 2002 and 2008, the group’s name was changed to Uyoga Band before later reverting to Them Mushrooms. This was about the time
Teddy went into semi-retirement from live shows.
Lately, Them Mushrooms has been focusing in performances at corporate, hotel and social functions.
In late 2015, they released Ni Jumamosi single. This was the same year George Zirro, one of the founder members, also died.
The current line-up includes Teddy, John Katana, Billy Sarro, Patrick Simba and Osman.
Earlier this month, they performed during the Thursday Nite Live show at J’s Fresh Bar & Kitchen at Westlands, Nairobi. They also performed during the recent Mashujaa Day celebrations in Nairobi.