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Jimmy Sugarcane seeks out the good noise on “Oya!”

The Madison-based dancehall artist catches up with us and shares a new video.

The Madison-based dancehall artist catches up with us and shares a new video.

Photo: Musician Jimmy Sugarcane, wearing a colorful outfit, poses with his arms held aloft. Photo by Wesley Allen Photography.

One-man-dance party James Ejiogu, also known as Jimmy Sugarcane, is a pool of positivity on-and-off the mic. His 2021 release Oya! was one of Tone Madison’s top 20 Madison records of 2021. The tracks hum with dancehall energy, fusing in sounds of Nigerian pop. In November, Ejiogu released a video for the title track along with the album. 

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He followed that recently with a video for  “Nkem Akolam,” which was posted on Christmas Day. Both pieces were directed by Mankind, a young director based in Lagos, Nigeria who Eijogu says, “has a bright future.” The video is bright, that’s for sure. Saturated colors coat the action throughout as Sugarcane makes his way into a wacky money scheme. A line of local Nigerian dancers serve as a surreal Greek chorus. It’s a treatment worthy of the vivid meld of influences and elements Eijogu brings together across Oya!

Eijogu emailed with Tone Madison after the album’s release, reflecting on his work and life in general.

Tone Madison: Where did you grow up? How was music a part of your early life?

James Ejiogu: I was born in London but grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. My dad exposed me to all kinds of music early in my life. James Brown, Fats Domino, Patton, Don Williamson, Ambassador U-Roy, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Fela, Oliver De Coque, Mariam Makeba. We heard it all.

Tone Madison: How did you decide to move to the U.S.? 

James Ejiogu: I moved here for college right after high school. I was just 16 years old. Just seeking a better life. I really wanted to repeat my senior year of high school so I could play soccer and honestly have that whole experience, but my parents refused. I wanted to study music but they said “Hell no! Why not doctor, lawyer, or engineer?” I’m an Engineer :). Music has always been in me. I enjoy it. Especially performing.

Tone Madison: Tell me about how you began an artistic collaboration with DJ Kameelah. She’s a fun part of the Jimmy Sugarcane live show. 

James Ejiogu: Kameelah is the artist and I’m the noise maker. If she gives the thumbs up, then it’s good noise. We met at a reggae club in Chicago a hundred years ago! DJ Rocking Kammie Kam as [Madison musician Luke Bassuener] Asumaya dubbed her, is everything. She’s like a utility player in a team. She can play all positions. Remember, I only play one position/instrument’the mic 🙂 It all started as a joke. She was just supposed to push buttons. Then she said I should start wearing African print pants, talk to the crowd; they want to hear from you. Blend these songs. Do these with Asumaya, drums and vocals only. It’s more intimate. 

Tone Madison: Tell me about the loss of your father and your return to Nigeria this past year. 

James Ejiogu: Very difficult but such is life. Life is never complete. Feels like I got an angel over me but I’d prefer him here. We buried him this past September. I’m gradually getting back into the swing of things.

Tone Madison: Who was on the production team for Oya!

James Ejiogu: Kaz Thunder a.k.a Lagos Badmaan of Royal Storm Ent. has always been by my corner in Chicago. Big Fizzy, MacTones, Spillz and Mr. Dove in Nigeria.

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