Deciding to change not only his life but the life of others as well - that's something Jimmy Andersen, a Zambian-born musician living in Copenhagen, can certainly teach us with his African initiative.
Photographs: Terumi Mascarenhas - www.fjordfoto.dk
Text: Michaela Medveďová
Somebody once asked Jimmy Andersen why he's so dramatic in all his answers. Well, he's been living a dramatic life.
His varied background led him to Denmark, among other places. Building a bridge between Denmark and Malawi, he's trying to create solutions to African economic problems - through football.
Where the roots are
Born in Zambia, he lived in several different places before his parents divorced. After his mom remarried a Danish man, he also lived in Denmark.
His grandfather was originally from Malawi. "I thought I was Zambian until a certain age when my mother told me: 'We need to take you to Malawi.' I wondered what's in Malawi, and she finally said that's where my roots are. When you're African, you have your original village. I couldn't tell her where it was in Zambia. My background is across Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, and Swaziland. There's not a single place I could say I am from."
Growing up in different places was fun for a long time - perhaps until four or five years ago, when Jimmy started to question it. He thought about the effects it had on him and became angry. "I realised that some people are so lucky. They have childhood friends - they can say they went to that school all their lives. I have so many places I'm connected to that are gone and so many people I can't catch up with - my entire life is cut up in pieces." But even though it frustrates him that he doesn't have a hometown, growing up differently was an adventure; with his brothers and sisters, they were a unit.
And while he can travel, there's no place where he wants to settle down.
No city like Copenhagen
A couple of years back, when he felt all his travelling for work and music was getting too much, he decided not to leave Copenhagen for a while. The pandemic, ironically, helped him stick to that decision. "Just before the lockdown kicked in, I was planning a world tour and checking out which hostels I would play in. Then corona came, and I've managed to stay in Copenhagen since 2019. So that's a huge thing." After that, he focused on all his projects - and his daughter. "She's never had me that much, and now we got to see each other regularly. But I like Copenhagen a lot - it's most definitely my favourite. I don't think there's any other city like it."
To Jimmy, Copenhagen is very local but has such a global reach. "There are so many people that are so accessible in this small space." Here, if he wants to do something, he doesn't have to give all of himself to it. "You can separate what you want to do from the person you are. You don't have to be the entire embodiment of it. In Denmark, you can step out of the role."
He simply finds people around him very humble, no matter how high they go. "Even the Queen can be grounded if she wants - in England, she couldn't. Danes have done a great anthropological feat here. it's the most precious thing." In Denmark, Jimmy also appreciates the silent consensus of automated teamwork - and a society of trust. Having just returned from Barcelona, he was on a train and wanted to buy food from the snack cart. The man operating it went off to get change for him. "When he returned, I said: 'Dude, you just left the whole wagon with me. I could have taken stuff. And he told me: 'But we don't do that, now, do we?' No, we don't - but I was just playing on the street in Barcelona and saw things like people picking pockets regularly."
A lesson in Danish culture
By now, Danish is very much of Jimmy's culture.
"Part of me feels African, part of me feels Danish. My mother, a proud African woman, refused to have a Danish passport or see Denmark as a way to a better future. She was just in love with a Danish man. So many people do anything to get a visa to come and live here. But that was not my experience at all."
Jimmy's parents, especially his mom, made sure the children kept their African language and culture. They ate together on the ground with their hands and spoke respectfully to their elders. At the same time, they'd also learnt to eat with a knife and fork. When they went to Africa, usually, they ate like Africans on the weekdays and like Europeans on the weekends. "It was instilled in us from the beginning. We were brought up as ambassadors of two cultures. What I'm doing right now is naturally just a continuation of what we faced back then. In the Danish countryside, people were so ignorant of Africa. And in the countryside in Africa, people were so ignorant of Europe. It was a job given to us from the beginning to make sense of this."
The awareness has improved, but in the past, Jimmy encountered questions like whether they have potatoes in Africa or who are those poor white people Africans see on foot. Can't they afford a car? Jimmy explained that the backpackers were just travelling and looking for an adventure. It's so much better now, mainly thanks to the Internet. "Up until 2001, when I went to Malawi, I went to a totally different world. You left an entire reality behind. You went to a place where you could hear the crickets at night. Now, I can talk to people in my village online. So those types of misconceptions have disappeared."
Jimmy went to school in Africa until age 15, and then he started attending one in Denmark. That's where his first culture shock began. Before that, besides his family, he didn't really spend time with other Danish kids. "Kids younger than me were smoking. We had a little shop at the school, and the kids running the shop were selling each other cigarettes. There was also a lot of open kissing. In class, students were talking back and using calculators. I couldn't believe it - in Africa, you're supposed to do it in your head."
With so many backgrounds and influences, there's not a single identity Jimmy would feel the strongest about. So instead, he only feels strongly about his destiny. "My main question is - what am I here for? That's why I'm so involved with what I'm doing because it's the only thing that gives me purpose. I belong to my work more than anything else."
Breaking down barriers
Because of all those misconceptions, Jimmy wants to build a bridge between Malawi and Denmark - and do it correctly this time.
"There's so much money thrown at Africa, yet the situation is worse than when we started. In the meantime, the Danish government has scaled down its presence in Africa. The embassies have disappeared, and the faith in African governance has also disappeared. Now, the Danish government is focusing on development based on business."
Jimmy wants to get people into a more proactive culture. So he's been working on CCSR - comprehensive corporate social responsibility - spent six years in Africa, observing the dynamics of how the poverty industry works.
He sees both the problems of the people and the problems of the government. They do want to help; they do have programmes. However, it's hard for people to see the entire overview - communicating what the government wants to do for the people. "There's goodwill and good intentions from both sides, but there's huge miscommunication. And it's a job for me to break those barriers. There are millions put aside for projects that could actually help us do stuff, and people are not accessing it simply because they are incapable of thinking further than their emotions. Luckily, I grew up with parents who were very into practical solutions."
And in Africa, Jimmy believes those solutions need to come from within so people trust them. That's the first step. Next, you need to be independent and use your resources. "We have a huge problem in Africa - many kids seem to not perform well at school. It's mainly because when lessons are taught in English, many kids are self-conscious and don't feel confident to partake in answering questions. If they pronounce something badly, everybody bursts out laughing. Everybody's so afraid of messing up the English language that maths, biology, chemistry disappear."
"We can take a great amount of the money sent out by Denmark and put it into football. It could help across the continent, not just in the African countries where Denmark has projects. You can keep many more young people in Africa, believing their dreams are achievable."
The football way
Jimmy knows football is very popular, and lots of kids have dreams and aspirations connected to it. So he's starting a project called Kick for Africa. "I know that if I go the football way, I'll meet many young people and use that as a doorway into the rest of what I could teach them."
Football excites people, pulls large crowds, and is a source of dreams for them. But, unfortunately, people are spending money on it, and no money is coming in. "We're going to set up a club. We know how much footballers are making - and it's not impossible for a club in Africa to make that much money and get sponsorships. It would be collateral for getting loans people wouldn't get otherwise." In some countries, people understand the concept of cooperatives - but in Malawi, there's a lot of jealousy. The only thing that motivates people to work together is football.
So Jimmy wants to divert money into other African projects to sponsor a football team instead. "We can take a great amount of the money sent out by Denmark and put it into football. It could help across the continent, not just in the African countries where Denmark has projects. You can keep many more young people in Africa, believing their dreams are achievable." Jimmy says they lose about half a million kids a year, leaving Africa for Europe. A significant percentage of them die at sea or are at immigration camps. "A ship sank in the Mediterranean years ago, and thousands of people died. It costs at least 1000 pounds to make that trip. A million pounds went down with them. If we had a programme with these people staying home, pulling these resources together, you would have a programme starting with a million and keeping people away from the sea and possibly losing their life."
So Jimmy is going to launch a campaign for every Malawian to register. They don't have to be a football player. They just have to be interested in their country and the world.
A higher destiny
After all, Jimmy himself is a musician.
"It's my job - it's my talent. It's part of our African life - music is at the centre of a community." But there's also a need to create new communities and cultures that go with how the world is changing. Reggae is the music that goes hand in hand with that. "It's a music culture created for displaced, estranged or marginalised people - and there you find common ground and a common voice. I found the courage to say Mom, Dad, I'm not going to finish school because this system is messed up. And they said - who says so? Bob Marley says so," laughs Jimmy. "Music made me feel I could stand on my own. If I tried to change things and be revolutionary, I'd have to depend on a group of people. But I can be alone with music and communicate with many people anyway."
Because Jimmy believes there's a lot he can and will change. Not for himself. He wants nothing less than a bright future for everybody - and that's what he's working towards.
To read more about Jimmy and his Kick for Africa project, follow him on Facebook: