On his debut album Free Me, Burundian-born JP BIMENI astonishes with a voice that recalls Otis Redding in his prime whilst resonating with the soul of Africa. A refugee who’s been living in London since the early 2000s, JP Bimeni songs of love and loss, hope and fear deliver with a conviction that comes from the extraordinary experiences life has thrown at him.
A descendant of the Burundian royal family, Bimeni fled his country aged 15 during the 1993 civil war. Following three attempts on his life – at school he watched as his schoolmates were murdered, he was then chased by motorcycle militia-men and finally poisoned by doctors in hospital – he was given refugee status and fled to the UK where he’s remained ever since. With classic 60s-sounding Motown and Stax-inspired grooves, Bimeni imbues these tales of love and loss with his tragic experiences making ‘Free Me’ a deep soul soundtrack to his pained life.
The fact that Bimeni has lived a life most extraordinary and lived to tell the tale makes these songs even more resonant: “When I was on my death-bed, after I’d been shot, they brought a priest to read my last rites” he remembers. “I looked at the priest and I said ‘I don’t feel like I’m going to die. I feel like I’m gonna live long, meet the world and I’m going to prove to myself that the world is not just hate or killings’”.
Aged 16 he left Africa for Wales, to attend UWC Atlantic College. Music offered respite in these dark times: “In Wales was the first time I bought music – compilations by Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye”. After two years at college, Bimeni secured a place at the University of Lancashire to study economics and politics where he performed his debut live show in a little pub. He moved to London in 2001 and here he enjoyed jam sessions with Roots Manuva’s band, open mic nights with Shingai Shoniwa from Noisettes, and an encounter with a teenage Adele. Yet it was an invitation to join an Otis Redding revue in 2013 that set-him on the course he is on today.
As a guest of funk group Speedometer at a show in Spain in 2017, Tucxone Records spotted JP Bimeni… and they knew they’d found their man. They paired him with the Black Belts and Bimeni recorded the album with them in Madrid over the winter of 2017.
For Bimeni, music is a way to survive. He’s a spiritual soul singer yet also a soul-singer with spirit, and his infallible positivity can be an inspiration to us all: “It’s my dream to return to Burundi one day – but I always remember that getting shot enabled me to meet the world.”