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From the Streets to the International Music Scene: Papillon’s Story

From the Streets to the International Music Scene: Papillon’s Story - Martin Murimi

Hailing from a humble background in a small village in Embu County, Martin Murimi who goes by the stage name ‘Papillon’ endured a hard early life living on the streets. With the support of Amref Health Africa’s Child in Need Project, he found salvation in music and art.

His journey started 27 years ago, growing up in a family of six.

“I was brought up by my mother and life was good until I decided to join my father in Nairobi,” he said.

In the city, things took a turn for the worse. He lived with his father and stepmother and after sometime, he moved out with nowhere to seek refuge.

“I started searching for odd jobs, anything that would allow me to survive the streets of Nairobi. This is how I became a ‘chokora’ (street kid). I sold sugarcane, mandazi (pastry) and tea to make ends meet. The business venture was not picking so I decided to try my hand at being a cobbler,” he says.

Martin was rescued off the streets by a Good Samaritan and taken to the Amref Dagoretti Child Protection and Development Centre. The centre runs a non-residential, community-based programme focusing on vulnerable children, including those in contact with, or living on the streets of Dagoretti.

At the centre, Martin and other vulnerable children were taken through the 4R process: Rescue, Rehabilitation, Re-integration and Re-socialisation. During this time, he got an opportunity to finish his education when he joined the neighbouring Mutuini High School.

In 1997, he launched his stage name ‘Papillon,’ French for butterfly. This metaphor associates with his life that has been full of up and downs and evolving just like the butterfly.

“A butterfly evolves in different stages. Human beings do not like the caterpillar, they destroy it. However, when it transforms to become a butterfly, people like the beautiful creature. Just like a butterfly, my life has evolved from being despised and called a ‘chokora’ (street child) to someone important in society. To me, it is a symbol of a world with no limitations,” says Martin who is now a prize-winning percussionist and accomplished artist.

While at the Dagoretti Centre, Martin took an interest in the arts, joining the JuaKali Drummers, a phenomenal group of young percussionists created to transform the lives of vulnerable children through a musical experience learning approach. With the Drummers, he got the golden opportunity to travel to Europe and other parts of the world, and later took over as the group’s Assistant Manager. In this role, he was responsible for composing, structuring and staging of live music shows.

Papillon has a passion for the use of African musical instruments with an eye to redesign, combine and upgrade them for a new musical experience, having spent time under the tutelage of a legendary artist, the late Ayub Ogada.

In September this year, Papillon is set to release his first major album titled MOYO in partnership with German-based international music label Naxos World, a leading music label in the world of classical music and a distributer of World Music to the Disney World Studios in Hollywood.

But even as his star continues to rise, Papillon has chosen to stay true to the cause that connects with his dream. He continues to work with children from the Amref Dagoretti Centre, speaking highly of the support he received in discovering his musical talent.

“I was a cobbler for almost a year and also did odd jobs in the slums of Kawangware. Look at me now; I am thriving and I see myself rising in my career. This is all because someone gave me a hand. It is a beautiful feeling and that is why I help and mentor other children at the Centre to explore their talent,” says Papillon who has offered 17% of the proceeds from his album sales to support the centre.

Since its inception, the Amref Dagoretti Child Protection and Development Centre has supported 2,000 children with access to education, 850 adolescents and young people facilitated to attain vocational training over and 46,000 children and community members informed about child protection and health care during medical camps in the community and edu-sports tournaments targeting children with street connections.

The programme has also trained 17,000 parents on child protection, parenting skills, family planning and gender-based violence.