When Anjimile’s first official tour was canceled, they turned to some of their go-to self-care practices: a bubble bath, some Pink Floyd, and John Wick 1 through 3.
“I was comforted by the stoic presence of Keanu Reeves,” says Anjimile Chithambo, who plays music as Anjimile. “He really helped me put things in perspective.”
The 28-year-old musician has had a big, well, a big pandemic. They put out their first label-supported record, were laid off from their day job in Boston, realized they could make music a full-time career, moved to Durham with their partner, and planned their first tour, all while navigating the same COVID-19 restrictions as the rest of us.
Anjimile’s music is often compared to that of Sufjan Stevens. The soft sounds and Biblical and literary allusions make the comparison apt.
But their songs are almost always hopeful or declarative in a way that comforts, even when they’re singing about everything breaking down. Come for Anjimile’s soothing, precise voice; stay for the stories of perseverance.
The musician didn’t get the in-person parties or release shows that would normally accompany an album release, but Anjimile said the pandemic actually took off some of the pressure they might otherwise have put on themselves.
“I was like, no offense to my record, but like in the scope of this pandemic here…Nobody really fucking cares,” Anjimile says, speaking from a picnic table in Durham Central Park. “We’ve all got bigger things to worry about, and so did I.”
We may have all had bigger things to worry about last year, but Giver Taker covers some of Anjimile’s biggest worries of the past several years. Alcoholism, rehab, transitioning, and religious deconstruction (Anjimile was raised Presbyterian) all make appearances on the album, in one way or another, and Anjimile says they like getting to share such intimate experiences with listeners.
“When I first started writing, and I guess still now, it’s mostly just as a way to express my feelings and process stuff,” they say. “And the fact that other people want to listen to it is pretty flattering.”
None of these subjects are difficult for Anjimile to share or return to, in part, because they’re not fully in the past.
“I’m no longer an active alcoholic, but I’m still you know, a recovering alcoholic, and my history of alcoholism is pertinent to my everyday recovery,” Anjimile says. “It just seems like a lot of things in my past are also my present. Like I was a trans person before I realized that I was a trans person, so that’s still the most relevant. And same about my relationship to my spirituality.”
Despite covering such heavy subjects, Anjimile’s album is a peaceful listen, and they were a calming presence throughout our conversations. Giver Taker came from a place of recovery and growth and sounds like it.
Anjimile wasn’t actually trying to write an album when they made most of the songs on Giver Taker. At the time, they were staying in a halfway house just trying to stay sober. The album is full of their confidence that things will work out—a credo they make a conscious decision to live by.
“I think it’s something that it’s kind of easy for me to believe because when I was in the throes of alcoholism, I came close to dying a number of ways,” Anjimile says. “Being alive and sober still feels like a plot twist to me.”
Anjimile is glad their music is connecting with people, but being a Black trans, nonbinary artist in the indie space can still be isolating. Their first label, Father Daughter, and several other Black artists in the singer-songwriter genre have made indie music feel more welcoming, though. One of the employees of Father Daughter is a Black nonbinary person, and Anjimile was heartened by that connection when they signed.
“I didn’t even know that Black queer people worked at indie labels,” Anjimile said. “That’s amazing. So yeah, I would describe it as challenging. I was trying to link up with as many Black artists as possible.”
In some ways, Anjimile says, the pandemic has even made that easier, as we all turned to social media last year to find connection. They even met their current manager on Instagram, which was a big part of their move to Durham in January 2021.
Durham was a relatively easy move. Anjimile’s management, The Glow (who also represent Sylvan Esso, Mountain Man, and Flock of Dimes, among other artists), is local, and they and their partner had some friends in the area already. They were excited to settle in a smaller, less expensive city, get out of the hectic bigger city, and—eventually—explore the town.
“I was hoping to go to venues and like, I don’t know, hang out with humans,” Anjimile says. “But that’s not as possible right now. We’ll get there.”
When they announced the tour this summer, Anjimile was feeling encouraged by climbing vaccination rates and dropping infection numbers. During our first conversation, in the humid shade of the park, Anjimile said they were excited for the two-week run down the East Coast, but they were already careful to say the shows might not go on.
And then came the Delta variant.
“I feel like Delta kind of threw all of us for a loop,” they said in a more recent phone call. “It’s thrown me personally for a loop.”
Looking at a tour schedule filled with small, intimate venues, Anjimile decided they weren’t willing to take the risk.
“It was a soul-searching moment, having to reckon with what I feel like is a safe decision with also just a pervasive feeling of failure.”
After only getting to join their band for one big outdoor set at the Tree Fork Festival in Idaho, Anjimile called it. But despite that disappointment, 2021 is also shaping up to be a big year.
On October 19, Anjimile announced that they’ve signed with 4AD, a record label that has made albums with indie legends like The National, Tune-Yards, Bon Iver, St. Vincent, and the Mountain Goats. Although Anjimile loved working with Father Daughter with their “whole heart,” they’re really excited about the potential of working with a record label as established as 4AD.
Already, the label is planning to fly Anjimile and their “co-conspirators” out to L.A. next month to begin the next album, which Anjimile says is a lot darker than Giver Taker.
When I point out that Giver Taker was not exactly light, Anjimile laughs.
“I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it was written during a pandemic and there’s been a lot of dread in the air,” they say. “I’m still personally attempting to reconcile that with hope for the future. I feel like I’m asking a lot of questions.”
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