Anjimile Chithambo is an unlikely success story for music in 2020. They’re a Boston musician who released their debut album Giver Taker on Father/Daughter records, which was featured in The Boston Globe, NPR, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, and Pitchfork, just to name a few. With the debut, they started to build an audience for their music in a time when touring is nonexistent and promotion is in flux.
Anjimile’s pronouns are he or they, and they are professionally known by just their first name. While they never could have foreseen the conditions surrounding its release, Giver Taker is a deeply soothing indie album with lush instrumentation and raw vocals that is oddly fitting for a year of upheaval.
“A lot of the songs are written from a place of chaos. Or rather, in the aftermath of chaos. Reflecting on the emotional ramifications of chaotic behavior, chaotic feelings.” Anjimile said.
“I certainly didn’t expect to be releasing a record in this hellscape that we call 2020. I have no idea what the f*** is going on. But I think that the music of this album is kind of comforting. It’s gentle and it is emotional…I kind of write songs as an attribution to my healing processes.”
Anjimile met with me the same way they play most of their shows these days: over video.
The temporary-turned-indefinite format for live music helps Anjimile continue to make ends meet by performing. While they’re wary of doing “socially-distant” indoor shows, there’s a large enough demand for online and outdoor gigs to make a living for now.
“I never had a huge show income to begin with. If anything, it came out to a part time income in a good year….But as an artist, touring is a huge part of your yearly income. I feel kind of lucky that it just isn’t for me, at least not yet,” Anjimile said. “I don’t know how people would be able to make up 30, 40, 50, 60 tour dates that are now right. Like, that sounds bonkers.”
Touring makes up a much larger portion of the music industry’s revenue than record sales does. According to the World Economic Forum, artists generate around 75% of their income from live shows, with record sales, merchandise, and royalties making up much of the rest.
Live streams give Anjimile a way to play to their expanding fanbase, but also serves as a constant reminder of the disconnectedness of 2020.
“When I’m playing to a live stream, it’s kind of like a Black Mirror situation,” they said, referencing the paranoid, technology-obsessed Netflix show. “I’m just staring at this empty iPhone screen that I’m recording on and looking at my reflection, and I’m not really sure if people are tuning in.”
Lots of musicians share in this disconnectedness that Anjimile feels, and many feel overlooked in a time of major insecurity. Maria Bartolotta, Community Manager for the Boston nonprofit The Record Co. found morale to be a huge issue among musicians this year. The 501c3 organization started an ongoing fund in March to give small grants of up to $200 to Boston-area musicians who lost income during the pandemic. Bartolotta thinks the effect of this fund was almost as much spiritual as it was practical.
“People said that they were happy to see that someone even cared about them because a lot of assistance to the arts has not come from higher-up leadership in our state or in our country and people were just so happy that their art and their living was being valued by someone. That was really uplifting for a lot of people,” Bartolotta said.
This sentiment also appeared in a recent political ad for Joe Biden that featured Joe Malcoun, owner of The Blind Big in Detroit. In the ad he spoke about lack of support bars and concert halls have received during their time without business, as Vanyaland reports.
Despite the uncertainty and disconnectedness, Anjimile and their team are still looking forward.
“I think the wisest thing to do is plan because the music industry carries on. Records are still being released, people are planning tours for 2021 in Europe and some even, boldly, worldwide,” they said.
ATC-Live, a Scotland-based booking company, contacted Anjimile this year with the intention of working with them in the next couple of years. Anjimile was initially surprised to hear from a European booking agency but learned that these companies are still looking for new artists to book for tours and festivals months and sometimes years in the future.
Since booking companies are always thinking so far ahead “it’s easier for them to see the light at the tunnel,” Anjimile said.
Touring would open up an entirely new financial and artistic lane for Anjimile and it’s on the horizon, wherever that may be. Until then they plan to keep writing, recording, and playing Black Mirror style live streams.