It’s 2AM and I’m at Logan Airport in Boston. My flight leaves at 6AM and my 12-hour journey to visit my hometown will come to its end. Today is my birthday. I’m 31 years old. I can think of no better way to kick off this personal holiday of mine than by writing in an airport after the show I flew all the way up here to see. In a few hours, I will watch the sunrise from my window seat on my way back to my Durham home. This journey was my gift to myself for my little holiday. The show was the Maker Mixtape Album Release at Dorchester Art Project. The album is the creation of one of Boston’s brightest rising local stars, my friend Anjimile.
I first met Anjimile in 2013 at a show (big surprise)–a local showcase at the Middle East Upstairs, a long-alive and much-esteemed Cambridge venue. I had gone to the show in my capacity as Managing Editor at Quiet Lunch Magazine to support a band I had recently written about–We Avalanche, they were called. After their set, a young singer-songwriter named Anjimile took the stage with a drummer and bassist, and started playing guitar and singing. I remember the moment well because when I heard their voice, I was instantly floored, frozen in place, suspended in a timeless bubble of awe and delight. What a magnificent voice, I thought. After their set, I found them in the crowd and said, “I need to write about you.” From that moment on, Anjimile and I became friends and collaborators. More than that, they would unknowingly come to influence me and my own artistic path. The years that followed were tumultuous for both of us, but we continued working together right up until the moment when I left Boston.
Sitting in this airport right now, I inevitably ruminate on the complicated relationship I have with my choice to leave Boston. The truth is, I was displaced by economics. I was forced out of my home because I could no longer survive there. My city had changed. It had stopped being my city. It belongs now to the people who had come to replace me. Still–being here now, on this night, I can’t help but feel like a piece of the Boston I knew and loved still lives.
I had never been to or heard of Dorchester Art Project before this show. Following a bizarre and convoluted Uber ride from my beloved Mary Chung’s restaurant in Cambridge, using a service called “pool” (a terrible mistake on my part), I arrived at a street corner in Dorchester, unsure of where I was supposed to go. My dear friend, who had joined me from her cozy Watertown abode for the show, pointed to a green door recessed between two store fronts. Ah yes. A hidden door. Of course this show would be behind a hidden door. We opened the door and climbed a mountain of stairs to arrive at a labyrinthine art space, complete with a small stage, an art gallery, more than a dozen tiny shared artist studios, and the offices of Boston Hassle, a local arts & culture publication and collective.
Desperate to charge my phone, I navigated through the maze of hanging artworks and zine libraries until I found my way into the delightfully modest Boston Hassle office. Their publication had only just started getting off the ground when I left Boston, so to be sitting in their office, stashing my bag, charging my phone, mingling with a few of their youngins, and learning how they were thriving, this journalist right here was feeling both happy and sad. The mingling didn’t linger as my friend and I made our way into the venue space, whose hallways were loudly reminiscent of The Cave. The stage area, enclosed by exposed brick walls and host to more than a few awkwardly steep steps, was filled completely with a diverse collection of Boston’s current crop of young artists and their cohorts. A young singer-songwriter took the stage and eased into his set. An inexperienced guitar player with a powerful voice reminiscent of Thom Yorke, the crowd enthusiastically cheered him as he played and took swigs from a nip of Maker’s Mark between songs. While he seemed a bit nervous at the beginning of the set, by the end of it, he stepped off the stage with an air of confidence.
I found myself wandering through the art gallery for awhile, admiring the “Priority Made” exhibit on display. A collection of 228 pieces of graffiti art on free postal stickers and a few non-sticker city art-style works by artists from all over the country, the exhibit explores “the sticker as a catalyst and universal canvas,” according to their literature. It was during this session of admiration that a door behind me burst open and through it Anjimile appeared. We locked eyes and they walked over to me and we embraced each other as old friends. We spent a few precious minutes catching up while I bestowed upon them the gift of owlephant buttons and egg rolls from Mary Chung’s. Shortly thereafter, they would take the stage for the Maker Mixtape Album Release.
A 5-track EP recorded “analog, using a Fostec R8 reel-to-reel tape machine (circa 1990),” as Anji explained to me, is one of the strongest albums they have yet released, which in itself is a bold statement, since much of Anjimile’s discography so far is quite splendid. This record represents a certain kind of growth in Anjimile’s sound. An exploration of angst, complicated relationships, and self-exploration, Maker Mixtape ranges from eerie, ethereal acoustic, like the album’s namesake track, to pure pop, like the hit single “Sonia Smokes Me Out”.
The set opened with the second track from Maker Mixtape, “Pieces”, a wavy pop song that instantly invited the crowd into a deeply intimate and eclectic set. Interspersed between a selection of tracks from the EP, Anjimile and their two lovely accompanying vocalists, played a few favorites from their recent discography, including “To Meet You There” and “1978”. Then came a cover, a tremendous cover, of “Cry Me A River”. I have seen Anjimile play more than few covers over the years, but they really shined on this one. A few audience members, myself included, sang along, joining in the harmonious sound emanating from the stage. When Anjimile announced that they only had one more song, the crowd in emotional unison burst out, “AWWWWW,” which then made all of us giggle a little. After the set, the crowd, ebullient and desperate for more, made so much noise that Anji finally said, “Fuck it, I’ll play another song.” While a few in the crowd yelled for “Sonia Smokes Me Out,” Anjimile elected to play something else. Something quite unexpected, in fact. It was “Wolf Like Me” by TV On The Radio, a song which, coincidentally, I have been blasting into my own ears over these last few months as I have been navigating my own personal angst. Once again that feeling came over me, being suspended in a timeless bubble of awe and delight… I thought of our first meeting and how young we were then, how far we’ve come since, and how through all of it, we have each become more and more ourselves, finely-tuned humans living in a state of honed self-awareness.
By the end of the show, the clock had struck midnight and my birthday had arrived. After my dear old friend and I parted ways and she returned to her Watertown apartment, I found Anjimile outside the venue for those last moments of affectionate congratulations before I hopped in an Uber and headed to Logan Airport, where I am now composing this piece. I told Anji that I would probably be writing in the airport while I wait. “How romantic,” they said. I smiled and said, “Someone’s got to be.” “And that’s you,” they responded. Yes, how very true that turned out to be.