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Hadiza, Jimmy Sugarcane (free)

  • Tip Top Tavern 601 North Street Madison, WI, 53704 United States (map)

Kansas City's Hadiza makes powerful, somber music. Info


Kansas City-based pianist, songwriter, and vocalist Hadiza Sa-Aadu released her solo project Hadiza's debut EP, Gone, earlier this year. While it's a brief four songs, Gone makes it pretty clear that Sa-Aadu has spent the past six years cultivating both classical grandeur and an intimacy that asks audiences to hunker down and listen close. "God Is 7" and "Langue Maternelle" combine bluesy shuffles with harmonic complexity. Sa-Aadu's voice (also heard in a gorgeous electronic-pop duo called Callidescope) hops across octaves, investing her stately melodies with a visceral ache in a way that evokes Nina Simone and Antony And The Johnsons. When it comes to lyrics, she's just as interested in mixing and matching different approaches, or more accurately, letting them bleed together into an approach of her own. A song released in 2017, "A Tone Meant For," speaks pretty bluntly about police violence and the struggle for justice—"As the other one / Armed with a badge and gun / Suddenly declares open season"—but more often Sa-Aadu comes at it sideways, giving us fragments of scenes and images and letting us sit with the uncertainty of how our minds should put them together. 

She explained in a recent interview with the Johnson County, Kansas Public Library that "Language Maternelle" grew out of the experience of "taking care of my grandmother after a mastectomy in Ghana," and its lyrics (which include a verse in French) zooms in on small details, and even play with the struggle to express oneself at all: "Synapses firing, an overstimulated mess / Words jump out scattered, meaningless." On Gone's closing track, "Source," she sings about facing "a sky made of sludge," a phrase that could open up any number of emotions or interpretations, but definitely helps listeners get absorbed in Hadiza's richly shaded world.

Opener Jimmy Sugarcane is a great fit for this show, even if he's miles away from the headliner's somber charisma. Currently a Madison resident, Sugarcane channels dancehall reggae into infectious electronic jams that also incorporate rhythms and melodies drawn from Nigeria, where he grew up after being born in London. In his live performances, Sugarcane is equal parts pop singer and massively amped-up master of ceremonies, given to high-pitched cackles and the rallying cry of "eehhhhhh!" In a recent performance for Wisconsin Public Television's 30 Minute Music Hour, he also got more of a chance than he usually does to slow down and talk about the emotions that drive his songs and how his perspectives have changed during a life lived across three continents. It's incredibly fun and varied music, and no one else in town is doing anything quite like it. —Scott Gordon