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Anjimile’s sophomore record ‘The King’ rises from the ashes of emotional turmoil, shining proudly as a beacon of understanding for intersectional identities. Callum Ritchie chats to the artist about the art of turning personal experience into communal connection. 

Fresh off the back of a mainstage performance at Hopscotch Festival in North Carolina, Anjimile is in the middle of a Lord Of The Rings binge. Getting to play live and connect with other people is one of his favourite parts of the job, a sign that there is new music to share. But it’s also one of the most exhausting, the kind of adrenaline rush that any introvert needs time to recover from. 


"I've been very excited about all the opportunities with press and touring, but I also find them on a basic level horrifying — terrifying and somewhat embarrassing,” he laughs. “Not that I'm embarrassed of the work or to be talking with any of these cool people in publications; that’s the kind of attention I want for my music. But the human attached to the music is very embarrassed at the kind of attention the professional musician needs and wants.” 

This humble attitude is befitting of an artist who is able to let their work speak for itself, rich in personal experience and heart. Born in West Virginia, Anjimile (or ‘Jimi’)s father initially migrated to the US from Malawi in the 80s, seeking new opportunities for his medical career. Eventually, the family settled in a small suburb of Texas named Richardson, but having never “fully enjoyed” life in the Deep South, college provided an opportunity for Jimi to branch out on his own. “I ended up in Boston on a whim, partly because one of my favourite bands at the time — Big D and the Kids Table — had put out an album and were singing about how cool Boston was.”  

It was a whim that served him for well over a decade. After eleven years of ups and downs in Boston,Jimi lost his job as an after-school teacher due to the pandemic. Somewhat fortuitously, however, his debut album ‘Giver Taker’ was released at the same time as he got laid off, intriguing eagle-eyed industry execs. One of those people was Martin Anderson, co-founder of management company The Glow, based in Durham, North Carolina. “Me and my partner had been speaking about moving anyway, so we drove down to spend a long weekend there,” says Jimi. “I met my managers for the first time and was like, yes; this place is fucking awesome.”  

As he talks, I sense that Jimi holds real value in the scrappiness and community vibe of the city, as well as a certain modesty as he hesitantly reassures himself that he is in a position to offer advice about how to succeed as an artist: “Surround yourself with people you trust, try to relax and believe that your art is good!”  

There’s something to be said for the DIY ethos that smaller cities encourage, potentially part of the reason why Anjimile has managed to hone a totally new and interesting sound across his most recent project. ‘The King’ as an album is otherworldly yet grounded, stark yet complex, disturbing yet beautiful. Its album artwork, a collaboration with Daniela Yohannes, sums this up nicely, a collaborative process that Jimi describes as quite seamless. “I got really into biblically-accurate angels…not the cute little baby with togas that you see in paintings, but specifically this type of biblically-accurate animal — the Ophanim — which is also referred to as The Wheel or The Wheels of the Chair of God’s Chariot. It's a disembodied creature and would obviously be horrifying to any living human if they encounter it, but it’s also a very cool visual. So I spoke to Danielle about it and weirdly enough she was like, ‘You know what, I was actually just talking about something like this’. It was meant to be. ” 

‘The King’ itself continues these biblical themes, referring to the power of Satan and God. The project's intimate storytelling qualities lead me to believe that Jimi is an avid literature fan, but he actually tells me he used to be a much bigger reader than he is now. “However, my love has been somewhat reignited by science fiction; I’m currently reading Sandman by Neil Gaiman.” 

Sonically, we discuss various influences including Weezer’s iconic chord chugs, temporary antidotes to frustration. “I got an electric Squire when I was 11 and “learnt some Jimi Hendrix and Green Day as well as some ska, but I never felt confident in how to hold a guitar pick correctly.” From there Jimi was introduced to Sufjan Stevens via a skateboarding messaging board, opening up a love-hate relationship with folk. “I started learning fingerpicking directly from Iron & Wine songs. I really would not consider myself someone who is a big fan of folk music, but I do love the sound and feeling of fingerpicking.” 

A lesser-known 00s pop-rock hit also provided surprise inspiration. “Do you remember ‘Barely Breathing’ by Duncan Sheik? It's a song about this dude whose partner is cheating on him, not caring about his feelings. For me I recontextualized it as being around the emotions I was having at the time with my mom who was super transphobic — we had a pretty painful falling out. I just kept listening to that song and relating to the distress that the songwriter was expressing. My record sounds nothing like the song, but it really, really deeply influenced the lyrics — just that imagery of being so aggrieved that your breath is taken away.”  

It’s clear that it's been a difficult process writing this record for Jimi. In his words, he wanted to validate people’s expressions of challenging emotions because "I have trouble expressing grief, fear and pain. They are the feelings that I often need support with.”  


He has successfully turned these emotions into healing on songs like ‘Anybody’, which he says is his current favourite. “I believe if you don’t find your wound, your wound will find you — I have definitely experienced pain that I was trying to avoid.”  

A wider sense of trauma is also clear on songs like ‘Animal’, in which he covers an intense spectrum of emotions within the summertime chaos of the 2020 BLM protests in Boston. “The Boston police department is really fucked. It felt really corrupt, racist and violent and was pushing back against protesters super hard.” 

Lyrically, there’s definitely something powerful in reclaiming the stories and emotions which are so often weaponized against black, queer and trans communities. All the conflicting feelings shown on the record arise in Jimi’s voice as we discuss the devastation that taking away choices from trans youth at formative moments in their lives can cause. “I am personally scared for trans youth. You need to sign a waiver to go by a different name at school now — when I was at school I was gay as shit, and I came out to my friends first, four years before my parents even knew. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing that with them, and I’m scared that trans youth are losing that opportunity to be themselves, away from their parents that are potentially trans or queerphobic.”  

Though being open about these fears is entirely valid, Jimi is also keen to state that there has been space in the last few years for some more positive forms of acceptance, truth-speaking and ultimately, healing. Despite his introversion, Jimi has managed to build an amazing community of queer, trans and non-binary fans, adopting his songs for everything from proposal soundtracks to tabletop gaming inspiration. With the release of ‘The King’, he is in a position to grow that audience even further, finding heart in knowing that no matter how dark the world feels, there will always be some listeners who can take comfort from being able to relate.  

“As a trans person I’ve experienced a lot of bullshit — it’s been kind of the main goal of mine to make music that can help people who could benefit from the catharsis of my experience,” he says. “I found connection and emotional release in making this album, and I hope others can too.” 

Anjimile’s album ’The King’ is available now on 4AD.  Words by Callum Ritchie Photography by Shervin Lainez


Words by Callum Ritchie

Photography by Shervin Lainez

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