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, 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 the album was written by musical director Eduardo Martínez and songwriter Marc Ibarz and Bimeni imbues these tales of love and loss with his tragic experiences making ‘Free Me’ a deep soul soundtrack to his pained life: “When I sing I feel like I’m cleansing myself: music is a way for me to forget”.


On “Free Me” tough funk jams segue into deep southern soul and heart-felt ballads, with a unique vibe present throughout this modern funk-soul masterpiece thanks to Bimeni’s uplifting African ‘soul’ style. Whether it’s the conscious funk of ‘Honesty’, the defiant, empowering ‘Fade Away’ or the tearjerker ‘I Miss You’, with each twist and turn Bimeni displays an astonishing depth with his vocal range. 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”.


Bimeni was born in the capital Bujumbura to a republican-leaning, high-ranking military official father and a mother who was a descendant of the royal family. With parents on opposing sides - the military overthrew the royal family in 1966 - their relationship fractured and Bimeni’s mother had to raise him and his three brothers alone. As a member of the former royal family Bimeni enjoyed a relatively carefree childhood: sent to a boarding school in the countryside run by nuns that was also attended by local children he was aware of his privilege: “we had shoes, they didn’t”. For Bimeni music started with dancing: “In Burundi, dancing is as natural as breathing. At school we sung traditional African folk songs - everyone sang”.


Bimeni’s childhood ended abruptly at the start of the 1993 civil war and subsequent mass killings. Ethnic rivalries have set off several devastating wars in Africa, but none come near the deadly legacy of the Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi – hundreds of thousands of people people died in the 1994 genocide. It was whilst trying to escape that Bimeni was shot: “I got a lift from the military in a vehicle but people followed us. The first bullet missed my head, the second went through my chest and on the third attempt they had run out of bullets. The guy giving me a lift died yet somehow I hid”. Bimeni was taken to hospital yet someone, thinking he was in the military, injected him with poison - a nurse gave him the antidote: “I lost half my body weight – from 76 to 36 kilos”, he recalls. “I was in intensive care, full of tubes, covered in stinking wounds, rotting on a life-support machine that wasn’t functioning properly”. Whilst convalescing in Nairobi after being airlifted, Bimeni heard he was on a wanted list, so with his life at risk he registered as a refugee and applied for a scholarship program run by the UN Refugee Agency.


Aged 16 he left Africa for Wales, to attend UWC Atlantic College. “I was on my own, I was a wreck, full of painkillers – but I was so happy to be away and to finally feel safe. ”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 embraced the myriad musical possibilities London offers: 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 Bimeni... and they knew they’d found their man. They paired him with the Black Belts - Rodrigo Diaz "Niño" (drum & percussion), Pablo "Bassman" Cano, Fernando Vasco "Two Guns" (guitar), Ricardo Martínez (trumpet) and Rafael Díaz (sax). Bimeni recorded the album with them in Madrid over the winter of 2017.


For Bimeni, music is a way to survive: “You can’t entertain the pain of your problems all the time – you have to put them away and let something else fill the space where it’s just been pain, worry and terror.” 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.”


Sur son premier album Free Me , le natif du Burundi J.P. Bimeni impressionne par une voix qui rappelle les débuts d’Otis Redding et dans laquelle résonne l’âme de l’Afrique. Les chansons d’amour et de perte,

d’espoir et de peur de Bimeni, émigré à Londres sous le statut de réfugié au début des années 2000, sont portées par une conviction qui émane des expériences extraordinaires que la vie lui a réservé.
Descendant de la famille royale du Burundi, J.P. Bimeni a quitté son pays à l’âge de 15 ans au moment de la guerre civile de 1993. Suite à trois tentatives d’assassinat à l’école, ses camarades ont été tués sous ses yeux, un membre de la milice l’a poursuivi en moto et les médecins ont tenté de l'empoisonner à l'hôpital il se voit octroyer le statut de réfugié et se rend en Angleterre. Porté par un groove qui rappelle les classiques des années 60 de Stax et de la Motown, l’album a été écrit et composé par le directeur musical Eduardo Martinez et le songwriter Marc Ibarz. Bimeni imprègne les compositions de son expérience tragique, faisant de Free Me la bande originale de sa vie de souffrance : “ la musique est une façon d’oublier ” explique J.P. Bimeni.

Sur Free Me, des jams funk enlevés succèdent à des ballades soul chaleureuses et le tout est sublimé par la touche africaine qu’apporte Bimeni. Que ce soit le funk conscient de ‘Honesty is a Luxury’’, le

provocateur ‘Don’t Fade Away’ ou l’émouvant ‘I Miss You”, Bimeni avec son large spectre vocal, fait montre d’une exceptionnelle profondeur. Le fait que Bimeni ait vécu une vie si tragique et qu’il soit en mesure d’en rendre compte donne à ces chansons une résonance toute particulière. 

“Quand j’étais sur mon lit de mort, après qu’on m’a tiré dessus, un prêtre est venu pour me donner les derniers sacrements” se souvient-il. “J e l’ai regardé et je lui ai dit que je n’avais pas l’impression que j’étais sur le point de mourir, que j’allais vivre encore longtemps, aller à la rencontre du monde et me prouver à moi-même que la vie n’était pas que haine et assassinats ”. Bimeni est né dans la capitale Bujumbura d’un père officier militaire de hautrang et républicain et d’une mère descendante de la famille royale.

Issus de camps opposés l’armée a renversé la famille royale en 1966 les parents se sont séparés et la mère de J.P. l’a élevé seule avec ses trois frères.


JP Bimeni, sangre sabia en el Planeta Soul

El soul fue una vez, ay, la música más sincera y apasionada del universo pop, tiempos más inocentes y felices que estos, en los que se aplauden la impostura y el mimetismo rampantes. Tiempos en los que cuesta separar el grano de la paja, quizá porque estemos demasiado acostumbrados a escuchar la música como un objeto de consumo más que como lo que significó cuando una legión de gargantas empapadas de emoción (de Sam Cooke a Solomon Burke, de Otis Redding a Curtis Mayfield) no acertaron a cambiar el mundo pero sí contribuyeron a convertirlo en un lugar más habitable. “Las canciones dulces nunca duran tanto en las radios rotas”, dice Swamp Dogg en la inmortal Sam Stone. Él, Swamp Dogg, grande entre los grandes, lo sabe bien porque vivió el soul en sus carnes desde la infancia, porque pertenece a una estirpe ancestral, la de quienes saben que la música más genuina, la única que perdura, es la que nace de ese lugar intangible que algunos llaman alma (soul, la música del alma), la que germina en los cuerpos desvencijados (soul, la música de la carne).

Por fortuna, de vez en cuando se aparecen como por ensalmo espíritus limpios que, como Swamp Dogg, conocen el secreto del soul y no necesitan para explicarlo más que su voz y un puñado de canciones instantáneas. No solo en la cuna del soul, también en la Vieja Europa, esa que sirve de tierra de asilo para decenas de miles de africanos que huyen de la desolación, de esos países que se consumen en el odio y la injusticia desde antes de las guerras coloniales. Como ocurrió hace unos años cuando Michael Kiwanuca, hijo de ugandeses exiliados, crecido en Muswell Hill, el barrio londinense de The Kinks, deslumbró con un primer álbum devoto del soul de guitarra de palo, género acuñado al calor de las memorables producciones de artistas como Bill Withers o Terry Callier.

Como ocurre ahora con JP Bimeni, nacido en Burundi, descendiente del linaje del Rey Mwezi (el Rey Luna), un legendario monarca autóctono que luchó contra los tratantes de esclavos árabes, contra los misioneros cristianos y contra el invasor ejército alemán del Mariscal Bismarck. Un hombre que tuvo que exiliarse en el Reino Unido a mediados de los años noventa, huyendo de la terrible violencia asesina que enfrentó a los Tutsis y los Hutus. Bimeni formó una familia en Londres y allí se las apañó para sobrevivir compaginando su trabajo con su afición por recrear el cancionero clásico del soul en fiestas locales y clubes devotos del género. Allí fue descubierto por casualidad por los responsables de ese pequeño sello español enamorado de la música negra con raíces que es Tucxone Records y de aquel afortunado encuentro nació un primoroso primer álbum a su nombre, uno de esos discos de los que cuesta desprenderse porque sus canciones se pegan a la piel, porque esa voz ahumada de emociones telúricas, que embellece los textos de piezas magnéticas como “Better Place”, “Free Me” “Stupid” o “Pain”, te recuerda que el soul nunca se irá del todo porque es la música más auténtica del siglo XX y, ahora lo sabemos, también del siglo XXI.