1972 – present (47 years)
Them Mushrooms is by now an institution in Kenyan popular music. The band started already in 1972, at that time with Osibisa and Black Blood as musical models. The founders were the Harrison brothers: Teddy Kalanda, John "Bishop" Katana, George Ziro and Billy Zarro. They have kept the band going ever since. First 12 years in the tourist hotels in Mombasa and then in Nairobi. As many other bands in East Africa they didn't own any instruments. They were dependent on hotel owners to provide instruments, a situation that very much restricts the freedom of bands in Africa. In 1976, however, Them Mushroom had managed to save enough money to buy their own set of instruments and become independent.
In 1981 Them Mushrooms issued their first album with CBS Kenya Records, named Mama Afrika after the title song, which was the first local reggae song recorded in East Africa. Their inspiration was Bob Marley. The album didn't sell very well. The general local audience was not ready for reggae at that time. The following years Mushrooms played mainly benga music from Western Kenya and chakacha from the coast and other local popular styles, but kept reggae as their secret love. In 1985 they introduced the style "reggae on benga", a fusion of reggae and benga which was a success. This beat has since been copied all over East and Central Africa. It is similar to soca from Trinidad or souk from the French Antilles.
In 1987 Them Mushrooms moved their headquarters to Nairobi playing at the Carnivore Restaurant. They also started to tour abroad and opened up their own recording studio "The Mushroom's Sound Lab" with John "Bishop" Katana Harrison (with dreadlocks on the photo above) as sound engineer and producer. This studio has been responsibel for a number of very successful releases with Them Mushrooms and other bands.
Like many other African musicians Them Mushrooms have been exploited. Teddy Kalanda Harrisons song Jambo Bwana has been an international hit recorded by Boney M and others, but Teddy never recieved any copyright money. Them Mushrooms have managed to learn their lesson and have gradually created their own production resources and record label. They are now in a position to indepentently direct their own activities. They are a postitive role model for other bands.
Today the lineup of Them Mushrooms is:
Henry Ndenge Saha drums and vocals, Freddy Awalla Onyango guitar and vocals, Dickson Owour Onyango trumpet and vocals, John Katana Harrison keyboards and vocals, Billy Sarro Harrison bass guitar and vocals, Teddy Kalanda Harrison tenor sax and vocals.
Dennis Kalume Harrison (R.I.P.) was a drummer in the earlier productions.
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