How Them Mushrooms are having a resurgence with the TikTok generation

The band's 50th anniversary tour brings the timeless sounds of zilizopendwa to a 'digital' audience

Piece by: PAUL AMUKO

• In recent years, the music landscape in Kenya has witnessed a remarkable resurgence of the iconic Zilizopendwa genre.

Them Mushrooms Band Live at Alchemist
Image: OJ photographer

In recent years, the music landscape in Kenya has witnessed a remarkable resurgence of the iconic Zilizopendwa genre, captivating audiences both at home and worldwide.

Spearheaded by legendary bands like Les Wanyika and Them Mushrooms, this revival has rekindled the timeless melodies and infectious rhythms that defined an era.

Today, artists such as Sauti Sol and Wanavokali proudly carry the torch, paying homage to their musical predecessors and propelling Zilizopendwa into the digital era.

In a world dominated by digital music and ever-evolving genres, one music style has stood the test of time, capturing the hearts of generations past and present.

Zilizopendwa, a popular music genre originating from Kenya, has experienced a remarkable resurgence in recent years, with legendary band Them Mushrooms leading the way.

As they celebrate their 50th anniversary, Them Mushrooms' "Mushrooms Hamsini Tour" aims to reach both their loyal traditional fans and a new generation of music enthusiasts, solidifying the genre's enduring resilience and undeniable appeal.

Zilizopendwa, meaning "those that were loved," encompasses a diverse range of Kenyan music from the 1970s and 1980s. It embodies a fusion of traditional African rhythms, infectious melodies, and socially relevant lyrics.

Them Mushrooms, formed in December 1972, played a significant role in shaping and popularizing the genre.

Their iconic tracks, including "Jambo Bwana" or "Kenya Hakuna Matata," "Ndogo Ndogo," "Nyambura," "Mtoto Si Nguo," "Usiibe," "Wazee Wakatike," "Rebecca," and "Daktari," catapulted them to fame and cemented their status as Zilizopendwa icons.

According to John Katana, the lead member of Them Mushrooms, the band never truly left the music scene.

''Ni kama mpangilio wetu kwa kingereza wanasema we reinvented ourselves, tulipo ona kizazi kipya kimekuja na mziki wa kufoka tukaona tuwape nafasi lakini wamekwenda mpaka tena tukaona nikwamba tunasinzia sasa'' John Katana.

They reinvented themselves, embracing the arrival of a new generation and adapting their music to resonate with the youth.

The band recognizes that staying relevant means appealing to the largest demographic in the world—the youth.

John Katana Harrison (Them Mushrooms) Alchemist
Image: OJ photographer

Their return to the music scene was inspired by the overwhelming love and listenership they received from younger audiences, fueling their desire to connect with new fans while remaining true to their root.

''Twataka kufikia mashabiki wapya maanake wale wa umri wetu tayari ni mashabiki wetu, lakini kwa sababu hii ni biashara lazima uwe na tamaa na mipango ya kufikia wanunuzi ama wateja wapya, kwa hivyo kwetu wateja ni mashabiki, ndio maana tunaipiga hi tour, kila mwezi tupo mahala tofauti.''

The recent viral TikTok videos featuring energetic dance routines to Zilizopendwa classics, including the late Daudi Kabaka's songs ''Nipe pesa'' African twist'' and ''Bachelor Boy'' and sampling reels of Them mushrooms serve as a testament to the genre's ability to transcend generations.

Through their music, Them Mushrooms and their counterparts have breathed new life into Zilizopendwa, making it a genre that defines the past, resonates in the present, and shapes the future of Kenyan music. 

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