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Jimmy Sugarcane’s dancehall raises a cry of “ehnh!”

Friday, January 10, Mickey’s Tavern, 10 p.m., free. Info

(Photo by Wesley Allen Photography.)

Chinedu James Ejiogu is relatively new to Madison and local audiences, but he’s been soaking up dancehall reggae since his childhood in Nigeria, along with music that ranged from Dolly Parton to Fela Kuti to the Everly Brothers to Nigerian highlife guitarist Oliver de Coque. “My dad used to bring me dancehall mixtapes when I was in grammar school,” Ejiogu recalls. “I knew some songs before I knew the artist.” The music he makes under the moniker Jimmy Sugarcane interprets dancehall, and a host of African and American pop influences, through a contemporary lens, combining impassioned vocals with sleek, upbeat electronic percussion.

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Since moving to Madison a few years ago, Ejiogu has put together a live Jimmy Sugarcane lineup with Kameelah Harris DJing and Luke Bassuener (Asumaya, Faux Fawn, and plenty of other projects) on drums. This frees up Jimmy himself to focus on vocals and hyped-up crowd interaction, which he refers to as his superpower. Between lyrics that often focus on universal themes of love, affection, and attraction—”Now we’re committed through any weather / If you’re cold, I can be your sweater,” he sings on “Ti Ile”—JImmy Sugarcane is an impish showman, riling up the audience with abrupt cries of “ehnh!” and “Suuuugar-su-gar-cane, o!” and usually getting all but the most reserved Madisonians to shout it back. It’s hard to capture the “ehnh!” thing in writing, but you’ll know it when you hear it, in an abrupt, almost nasal departure from his usual singing voice. It’s good, sweaty, danceable fun, and the music aims to melt people’s boundaries a bit, whether they’re social or cultural. “I remember the first time I performed a song written in Igbo, my language,” Ejiogu recalls. “Someone walked up to me and said, ‘I don’t know the language but I knew it’s about love.'”

He’s working on finishing some new songs, and at this show he plans to include some older songs that haven’t been in his other recent live sets around town. Bassuener will be pulling double duty with Disaster Passport, an instrumental outfit that also features two banjos and baritone guitar, and became something of a local sensation last year by performing an original live score to the 1982 documentary Koyaanisqatsi. Also playing at this Mickey’s show are Quad Cities power-pop act Pollinators (led by former Madisonian Tom Teslik) and bizarro-world Balkan swing outfit William Z. Villain.

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