Anjimile wanted to play at a Tiny Desk, then settled for the big stage

Anjimile Chithambo, a senior at Northeastern who won the title of “WBUR’s Favorite Massachusetts Entry” after submitting an original song to NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, poses for portrait on October 10, 2018. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

In June 2018, WBUR announced its favorite Massachusetts entry to NPR’s ongoing Tiny Desk Contest. That honor went to Anjimile Chithambo, a Texas native who relocated to Massachusetts in 2011 to attend Northeastern.

The news of the win came in the form of an email—an unexpected one.

“I actually just responded ‘what,’ with eight exclamation points,” said Anjimile, who, like Prince or Selena, drops the surname both on and off the stage. “That was a really pleasant surprise.”

Anjimile, as a musician, sits within the indie folk tradition, though with noticeable influences from ambient, rock, and pop music. It’s this blend that allows Anjimile to credit the works of Sufjan Stevens, Lauryn Hill, and Michael Jackson in the same breath.

Originally, Anjimile hadn’t planned to enter the NPR contest. That is until a friend named Justine Bowe, who performs under the name Photocomfort and is featured in the video Anjimile submitted for the contest, heard Anjimile’s song “1978” and thought it stood a chance.

“1978” is part of Anjimile’s 2016 album “Good Boy” and the musician’s second entry to the Tiny Desk Contest. In 2015, Anjimile submitted a song called “Therapy,” which didn’t make as big of a splash.

But Anjimile acquired more musical training in that one year, leading to the ability to write “1978” and gain more critical acclaim.

“I think one obvious difference between ‘Therapy’ and ‘1978’ is that, between those two songs, I learned more guitar chords,” Anjimile said with a laugh. “Thanks, Northeastern!”

Joking aside, Anjimile does credit this leap in ability to certain skills learned as a student. Having taken classes in songwriting and music licensure, the musician acknowledges the support that can come from academia—”specifically the music industry major that I’m a part of,” Anjimile said.

This program also fostered a lasting partnership with another musician, fellow music industry major Lee Schuna.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

After recording one of Anjimile’s original songs in an on-campus recording space, Schuna reconnected with the musician a year later during a jam session in International Village.

Along with drummer Drew Wilcox, the pair put out Anjimile’s LP “Human Nature” in 2015. Schuna then went on to master “Colors,” Anjimile’s most recent album.

“Everything I have that sounds really good, he recorded,” Anjimile said of Schuna, now both a producer and a roommate. “He has a home studio,” said Anjimile with a laugh. “Our home.”

Anjimile continues to spread roots across the greater Boston area; next up is a performance in Lowell on October 19 as part of The Town and the City Festival.

The musician is also represented in the Boston Music Awards, securing nominations in three categories: Unsigned Artist of the Year, Folk Artist of the Year, and Singer-Songwriter of the Year. Fellow Northeastern student Sidney Gish was also nominated for Unsigned Artist of the Year.

Student-musician is NPR’s artist to watch

The public can vote until November 4 at 11:59 p.m., and the winners will be announced at the House of Blues on December 12.

Like the WBUR panel that hailed “1978” as the state favorite, the leadership of the Boston Music Awards relies on nominations—in this case, from ”booking people and journalists and photographers,” as Anjimile said—in order for musicians to even be considered.

Evidently, by continuing to learn and grow as a musician, Anjimile is gaining traction. And local recognition is a goal worth visualizing.

“I put it on my vision board last year,” said Anjimile, “and here we are.”