Anjimile Breaks Down Every Song on His Breathtaking Debut LP, ‘Giver Taker’

“I write a fuck-ton of songs,” Anjimile Chithambo recently told me over the phone, reflecting on the making of his debut album, Giver Taker, out today via Father/Daughter.

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“So I just pulled together a Google Doc of what I thought were the best 15, and then we listened to each one and decided as a group which ones we thought were the best. I think the easiest thing about working with Gabe and Justine is that we have very similar tastes, so there was no dispute. They were like, ‘We think these ones are the best,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, me too.’ It was very easy.”

Anjimile is referring to Gabe Goodman and Photocomfort’s Justine Bowe, who jointly co-produced Giver Taker and, in the process, helped the queer and trans singer-songwriter craft his most sophisticated release to date. The album’s nine songs groove with a sense of wonder and self-discovery: “I’m alive / I am not so gone as I thought / Oh God / I am loved / I am learning how to receive loving / Are you real? / Are you something out of a dream from me? / Bold and bright / I could fall asleep in your love,” Anjimile sings in “1978,” one of the album’s most mysterious and profound numbers (an earlier version of the song was selected by WBUR as their favorite Massachusetts entry in NPR Music’s 2018 Tiny Desk Contest).

We invited Anjimile to break down every track on Giver Taker. Check out the Boston-via-Dallas artist’s responses and listen to the full album below.

“Your Tree”
This one is based on a true story, although the details feel blurry to me. I remember my mother taking up gardening when I was very young. I remember her planting flowers. I remember that a frost came in early spring and killed the flowers. I think it snowed a little, which is a very uncommon occurrence in the suburbs of Dallas, TX, where I’m from. I haven’t been keen on gardening since. I think I’m a little too sensitive. 

“Baby No More”
When I went to rehab I brought my acoustic guitar with me. I used to sing and play for folks at the treatment center when we had downtime, and ‘Baby No More’ was everyone’s favorite. People started requesting it: “Play that song again, the one where you’re an asshole.” I swear to God, every addict/alcoholic in the building would go off when I played it. I think it made folks feel normal—like we were at home again, hanging out with friends.

“In Your Eyes”
When I was in fourth grade, my homeroom teacher gave us a sort of “family tree/genealogy” assignment. This included learning the meaning (if any) behind our given names, so that day I went home and I asked my parents what “Anjimile” meant. They told me that “Anjimile” means “denied” in Chichewa (the native language of Malawi, where my family is from), and that one of my aunts had cried out “oh, Anjimile” when I was born because she was hoping my parents would have a son. In this context, “Anjimile” means “denied a boy.” There’s a couple of lyrics in this song that go “Does my body divide / was my body denied?”, and they’re quite literal and based around the aforementioned context. The whole song is related to my relationship with my gender, my sexuality, my name, my family. Funny how things connect. 

This song is an ode to my grandmother. We never met—she passed away when my mother was young. Her deep sense of faith and spirituality permeates my family in a really lovely way. I feel I am rooted in her heart, and vice versa.

“Not Another Word”
This one was originally written on banjo. I don’t really play the banjo, so you can imagine how the demo sounds. Anyway, “Not Another Word” was inspired by my first big breakup. I spent a lot of time listening to “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and moping around my apartment. I was in a pit of self-pity, but somehow this song came out of that experience. Writing this song was a moment of clarity for me, a loving light in a very dark place. 

Whenever I write a new song I get hyper-focused, and I have to record a demo immediately. So I’m in my bedroom recording the demo for “Maker” on my phone, and it’s taking hours and hours because the fingerpicking pattern is a little too challenging for me to play. Meanwhile, it’s winter, and the heat is off in my apartment because it’s a weekday in the middle of the afternoon. So over the course of 3-4 hours my fingers start getting numb from a combination of the cold and the guitar playing. Instead of just taking a break like a normal person, I begin periodically walking into the kitchen to pour some water in a mug, heat the water in the microwave, and then dip my fingers in the hot water to thaw them so I can keep playing and finish recording the demo. I ended up going to the doctor a few days later because my fingers were still numb. My doctor was just like, “You’ll be fine. Just…don’t do that. Ever. Again.” 

This one used to be called “Warm Hearts.” The word “Ndimakukonda” means “I love you” in Chichewa, and a popular nickname for Malawi is “the warm heart of Africa.” So when I first wrote this song—a love song—“Warm Hearts” felt like a really apt title. My producers Gabe Goodman and Justine Bowe suggested changing the song title to “Ndimakukonda,” and I’m glad that we did. It’s simple, and matter of fact, and it gets to the heart of the song.

“Giver Taker”
This song is a eulogy for an important person in my heart. I met her when I was in rehab in Florida for a year. We didn’t know each other well, but her kindness, vulnerability and serenity had a lasting impact on me. This one is for her.

“To Meet You There”
Towards the end of my year in Florida, there was a terrifying hurricane watch all across the southwest coast. I think it was Hurricane Matthew. Grocery shelves in Palm Beach County were empty—people were buying all the water bottles in grocery stores and stocking up on dry goods. I was scared shitless. I’m from North Texas—I don’t do hurricanes. Anyway, the night of the storm I didn’t sleep. The sky was black and the wind was blowing and I spent the night looking out the window, waiting for the apocalypse. But the storm passed right by us, thank God, hence the lyrics, “Hurricane never came.”

Giver Taker is out now via Father/Daughter. You can order it here or here.

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