Apr 11th, 2022
Burundian-born, London-based soul singer J.P. Bimeni doesn’t see the world through rose-colored glasses, but he exudes optimism in his sophomore album with Spanish funk outfit The Black Belts, titled Give Me Hope, where he channels prime Otis Redding while meditating on ambition, community and love.
Give Me Hope grooves between classic ’60s Motown and Stax-inspired soul, psychedelia and afro-funk. Inspired by leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and James Stern (who gives an empoweringly funky track on the album its title) and propelled by the wisdom of prolific creators like Lee Scratch Perry, Bimeni’s deep consciousness and vulnerability is on full display without losing pop sensibility.
A descendant of the Burundian royal family whose parents held opposing political views, Bimeni escaped his country aged 15 during the 1993 civil war and genocide, and moved to the UK on a UN scholarship. “Music is my great escape”, he states. “You realize that you have a platform that is much larger than you expected, so you have to question yourself: What am I trying to express? Who am I?”. J.P. Bimeni showcases himself as resilient and conscientious, conjuring a deep spirituality and pain to demand hope. After experiencing unimaginable tumult as a young man, Bimeni’s belief that love is our collective future remains steadfast. Where his critically acclaimed debut was a joyous, super funky celebration of achievement – Give Me Hope is a deeper contemplation on the need for unity and a sense of global community.
Much like his idol Otis Redding, Bimeni is a master of both the forlorn and ecstatic. Give Me Hope opens with a cover of Eddie Holman’s 1969 string-laced midtempo burner “Four Walls”, in which Bimeni aches with regret of losing a love he once took for granted. On “Not In My Name”, a unique pop-soul song with a message, Bimeni encourages reciprocity in our communal existence. He uses the album’s ballads as metaphors for loving thy neighbour, folding hints of gospel and Sam Cooke sweetness into songs such as “Find That Love” and “When Everything Is Wrong”.
Give Me Hope also deals with complex internal themes, and Bimeni imbues “Guilty and Blessed” with his personal history of trauma and war. Hundreds of thousands of people died in Burundi’s 1994 genocide, including some of Bimeni’s young friends. The singer was shot and read his last rites, poisoned by doctors and put on life support – and yet Bimeni managed to survive, thriving as his passion for music unfolded. Yet despite his successes, Bimeni is often wracked with survivor’s guilt. “I know people who probably deserve more than I do, but they didn’t have that chance”, Bimeni says. ” feel blessed to have survived and keep moving”.
Uplifting the album are the supremely funky title track and “Mathematics”, in which stabbing horns and heavy bassline conjure both Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and Fela Kuti. Bimeni honors his heroes on “James Stern”, a slightly psychedelic tale of the Black activist who destroyed an American neo-Nazi group, adding to the album’s themes of self-empowerment. The horn-forward swing of “Precious Girl” erupts as soul dancefloor crusher, buoyed by Bimeni’s incredible vocal depth.