Anybody who’s spent more than a day or two on the mountain will undoubtedly have heard the guides and porters belting this song out. Indeed, it seems rare to arrive at a campsite these days and not hear it being sung by one expedition or another. By the end of the trek, it’s highly likely you’ll know all the lyrics and singing along too.
Jambo, Jambo Bwana,
Wageni Wakaribishwa Kilimanjaro,
But where did this song come from, who recorded it first – and what are they actually singing?
Well the lyrics themselves all very inoffensive:
Hello, hello sir,
How are you?
I’m very well.
Visitors are very welcome to Kilimanjaro
The song was first recorded in 1982 by Them Mushrooms, a Kenyan ensemble formed in the early seventies who used to ply their trade at the luxury beach hotels in Mombasa. The song was written by the band’s leader, Teddy Kalanda, though he borrowed heavily from traditional folk tunes around at the time. In the Mushrooms’ version there was no mention of Kilimanjaro at all – instead the original song welcomed people to Kenya yetu, or ‘our Kenya’.
The song proved to be a big hit, selling over 200,000 copies, and was subsequently covered by several other African bands including Mombasa Roots, Safari Sound Band, Khadja Nin and Adam Solomon. Worldwide fame, however, arrived when the German-Caribbean disco outfit Boney M released their version, Jambo – Hakuna Matata – though the lyrics were heavily doctored and only the first and last lines of the original survived.