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With charm and intention, Mudibu (aka JP Bimeni) graced the St Ethelburga’s stage with an incredible line up of seasoned musicians to perform at our monthly ‘Listen to the World’ evenings on 7th May. Playing with this instrumental lineup for the first time, the set was a mix of improvised sounds as well as rehearsed tracks, with Kadialy Koyate on Kora, Ciyo Brown on guitar, Owen Uwadiae on bass and Pharoah Russel on drums.

From L-R: Ciyo Brown, Pharoah Russel, Mudibu (aka JP Bimeni), Owen Uwadiae and Kadialy Koyate

‘Listen to the World’ is a live music programme and part of ‘People of the Earth’, a project of St Ethelburga’s that fosters connections between displaced people of refugee or migrant backgrounds and local communities. We aim to build understanding between communities through sharing culture and story-telling. Listen to the World, held every second Tuesday of the month, brings global sounds from a diverse range of musicians to tell their stories through song, music and dance.

Taking us through a journey from his roots in Bujumbura, Burundi, to his scholarship at Oxford University as a refugee to the UK, over the course of the evening it became clear that Bimeni was born into a world of contrasts. His upbringing was shaped by the convergence of his military father’s lineage and his mother’s royal heritage, amidst the backdrop of political upheaval. Fleeing the ravages of civil strife, his journey was fraught with harrowing encounters and near death experience. Yet, in the UK, his music became a vessel for healing and insight, weaving tales of struggle, triumph, and ancestral wisdom into his performances. Sharing deep insight from this time of witnessing so much conflict, Mudibu began each set by explaining the story behind it and his personal connection to it. Though the tone of his stories was sometimes sombre, the music was a joyful celebration of resilience and Burundian heritage. Weaving folktales, ancestral knowledge and celebratory ritual songs, Bimeni invited the audience to partake in a celebration of life and the enduring spirit of Burundi—a testament to the transcendent power of music

With Bimeni’s mix of reggae and soul with Burundian rhythms and stories, it didn’t take long for guests to jump up on their feet and clap along harmoniously to the soulful tunes. One guest, who came with a group of friends, tells me, “the evening is very spiritual and fun, something we need for our souls, everyday. I need to dance every night!”. Her friend tells me that JP Bimeni is her favourite artist, but it’s her first time visiting St Ethelburga’s. “[The church] is beautiful,” she says, “and it’s my first time to see [Bimeni] in this set up with the Kora and the double bass. I love it”.

Outside, in the inner-city oasis of St Ethelburga’s garden, the guests take a dance break to cool off and connect. I catch bass player Ciyo relaxing on the side of the fountain, and he explains to me that he’s only recently been introduced to Bimeni’s music, which he says is “full of inspiration, African ingredients, soulfulness, obvious reggae influence, it’s quite a combination.” Performing at St Ethelburga’s feels “very relaxing,” he continues, “it makes a change from a concert hall. The audience is responsive, they make you feel like a gladiator. There’s definitely a calming effect.”

Another guest who was fascinated by the Burundian music’s resemblance to her own Fulani heritage, tells me that the evening takes her back to her “African roots. I’ve been to two events [at St Ethelburga’s] and I feel like I’ve found a home,” she continues.

Upcoming Listen to the World events

Listen to the World live music concerts take place on the first Tuesday of the month. In June, ahead of Refugee Week, join us for a celebration of the rich musical traditions of Afghanistan brought to us by Kabul-born, and London based popular singer and musician, Homayun Sahebezai and friends. The evening will be filled with songs in Farsi and Pashto, accompanied on harmonium, tabla and dholak, and Afghanistan’s national instrument, the rubab.  To book tickets for this and future Listen to the World and St Ethelburga’s events, visit our event page: https://stethelburgas.org/events/

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Jo Winsloe

Project Manager

Jo is Project Manager of People of the Earth at St Ethelburga’s. She collaborates with individuals and organisations to bring refugee and non-refugee together building empathy and understanding one conversation and one action, at a time. She hosts and co-ordinates events to promote inclusion and leads on the production of Listen to the World Open Mic. A programme where themes of home, displacement, belonging and community meet through music and the traditions and talents of migrants and refugees find a home among local artists. Jo has worked in the non-profit sector for over twenty years. She holds a BA (Hons) in Education and a Diploma in group facilitation, conflict resolution and counselling (NAOS).