Wednesday, 25 October 2017



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (

The finale of last week’s African Heritage Night was the launch of the debut album by the multi-talented Kenyan musician Papillon (aka Martin Murimi).

‘Heart of Africa’ is the album recently recorded by Papillon with the same remarkable band members who performed last Wednesday night in the garden at Alliance Francaise.

Musically speaking, Papillon has been performing at Nairobi venues for many years. He wasn’t known by ‘the French name for butterfly’ back in 2005 when he first started performing professionally with the Jua Kali Drummers out of Dagoretti.

With Jua Kali, the young percussionist performed in Europe and Latin America. But after attending a number of music workshops and meeting the musician who’d become his main mentor, Ayub Ogada, he split from Jua Kali and formed the Slum Drummers.

But even before he joined Jua Kali, Murimi was making his own instruments out of scrap metal and other found objects. Then once he got exposed to a wider variety of musical instruments, he expanded his own repertoire of home-made instruments.

It was that knack for assembling brand new musical instruments and sounds that appealed to African Heritage House CEO Alan Donovan, who’s promoting several AH bands in the past, and who’s spurred on the innovative instrumentalist ever since.

But it’s Murimi alone who composed all 12 musical pieces in his new album. At the same time, his songs are beautifully embellished by the masterfully musical artists who Papillon also performed with last Wednesday. They included Prasad Velankar on tablas, Michel Ong’ara on flute and guitar, Paul Shiundu on keyboard, David Muli Mbuta on bass guitar, Titus Davis Mwangi on percussion and Nelson Gaitho joining Papillon on vocals.

Performing as a kind of auxiliary team to the African Heritage fashion show, all seven artists were decked out by Mr Donovan as if they were musical princes, which they could have been, given the professionalism of everyone in the band.

Their musical genius was most apparent when artists like Michele, Paul and Prasad were given the latitude by Papillon to perform semi-solo riffs that effectively illustrated of the band’s immense potential to grow and expand as they continue working together.

For now, copies of ‘Heart of Africa’ are available through the African Heritage House. But Papillon is having the album ‘remastered’ in the States. It will be available early next month together with a new cover and booklet story about his unique collection of original instruments and his bio.

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted January 2016)

Martin Murimi aka Papillon has been making musical instruments out of recycled scrap metal and other found objects ever since he joined AMREF’s Dagoretti Child-in-Need Project in the early days of the new millennium.   
Murimi was only a teenager when he came from the village to stay with his dad in Nairobi. But things didn’t turn out as he’d expected. He soon had to learn the skills of survival and self-reliance.
But he had several things going for him. First was his Christian upbringing which included his life-long love of music, especially singing; then there was the wise advice of his mother who taught him to “work with your hands, and you’ll be blessed.”
Murimi’s been fortunate to find mentors who’ve taught him countless life-skills, especially the value and virtue of being resourceful, resilient and hardworking. That’s how he found his way to Dagoretti and AMREF‘s street children’s project which aimed to transform young people’s lives by teaching them to create instruments and make music out of recycled garbage.
Managed by the Italian artist Giovanni Okasho, the project evolved into the Jua Kali Drummers in 2005, and Murimi not only learned to be a powerful percussionist but also to become the group’s assistant director. With Jua Kali, he traveled, performed and even studied for almost a year in Italy and later Brazil.
Jua Kali also performed locally at venues like Bomas of Kenya, Sarakasi Dome and the Sawa Sawa Festival. But it was their musical workshops that helped to broaden Murimi’s perspective on performance and got him playing all sorts of instruments, from flutes and finger pianos to original inventions like the tubaphone.
Those workshops are where Murimi also met Ayub Ogada who subsequently became one of his main mentors once he split from Jua Kali, helped form the Slum Drummers and finally branched out on his own. Yet as much as he admired Ayub’s sound and musical versatility, he didn’t want to become an Ayub clone.
Wanting to have an identity of his own is how Murimi morphed into Papillion (a ‘butterfly’ in French) and began creating his own musical instruments, like his Mwair-wa-oru (Daughter of Ur) and Anywar Abel (caring parent) which he’ll play during Sunday’s African Heritage Day.

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