There is a new musician on the East African music scene by the unlikely name of “Papillon” (butterfly in French). Papillon has arrived on the music scene, however, more like a comet than a butterfly, as he not only writes all of his own music — in several languages — but he designs and creates his own African instruments!
Papillon is among the first musicians in recent times to look at African musical instruments with an eye to redesign, combine and upgrade them for a new musical experience. For instance, he has taken an 8-string lyre, which is played in one version or another in countries along the Nile River and set it inside a calabash resonator (similar to those found in the “Kora” of the Sahel) along with two “Kalimbas” (finger pianos) which are played throughout Africa. This ingenious invention allows him to play two different instruments at the same time. His interest in traditional musical instruments is partially the result of time he spent under the tutelage of another East African musician who created musical history and achieved world fame by playing traditional musical instruments, the legendary Ayub Ogada.
Although Papillon is quite young, he is not really new to the music scene of Africa. A decade ago, as a child named Martin Murimi, he joined a Kenyan group called “Jua Kali Drummers”, a phenomenal group of young percussionists that traveled to Europe and other parts of the world. When the group morphed into the famous “Slum Drummers,” Papillon took over as the assistant manager under an Italian musical director, named Giovanni lo Cascio. ` From a poor rural background, Papillon endured a hard early life, and, as a street boy, found salvation in music and art. Besides being a prize-winning percussionist, he is an accomplished artist.
Now Papillon is ready to spread his musical wings in flight, preparing his first major album. With his soaring voice and haunting melodies, coupled with a litany of African instruments, many of his own making, Papillon is a musical force to be reckoned with. He has formed a group of versatile and diverse musicians, including an Indian Tabla drummer, a flutist, a pianist, Guitarist. This group will accompany Papillon on his quest to take back traditional music, much of which was lost during the colonization of Africa and other parts of the world, and his attempt to build a new musical dynasty on old African roots.
THE GOLDEN LYRE OF UR
Archaeologists digging in modern day Iraq stumbled on a scene of tragedy when they broke into the royal tomb of former Sumeria in 1929. They discovered what appeared to be a mass suicide: forty – six ladies-attendants to a queen lay side by side, as if asleep. In the corner, lay a pile of heavily deteriorated musical instruments, including three lyres and a harp, and beside them – the last player – with her hand still outstretched to one of the lyres. Centuries later, the most magnificent of them, The Golden Lyre of Ur, was destroyed during the war in Iraq.
The solid gold bull’s head on the front of the instrument was later found hidden in the bank of Iraq. This story inspired Andy Lowing’s, a harpist from England, to gather together a group to reconstruct this iconic instrument, probably the ancestor of all the 8-stringed harps found along the Nile, dating from almost 5,000 years ago, a time before Stonehenge and the Pyramids. The kilo of pure gold for the bull’s head was donated by Anglo Gold Ashanti. The finished replica of the Golden Lyre of Ur was
played by world famous Kenyan musician Ayub Ogada at Live8 Africa Calling and then at the African Heritage House. This ancient instrument, perhaps the mother of harps and lyres found all along the Nile River, including the Nyatiti of the Luo and the Obokano of the Kisii, is a source of inspiration for the musical instruments being designed and created by Papillon.