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Genesis Owusu At The Roxy, Monday March 21st 2022

Genesis Owusu
Genesis Owusu at the Roxy

Genesis Owusu knows how to make an entrance: before stepping a foot on stage, he made us hear an entire piece of music and watch three men wearing balaclavas hold a black and red flag reading “Beware: Black Dogs.” When Owusu finally got there, he was acclaimed like the rock-rap star that he is, while his incredible energy became the driving force for the entire show.

Born Kofi Owusu-Ansah in Ghana, Owusu moved to white Canberra, Australia when he was just two, and if his two black dogs symbolize depression and racism, two recurrent themes on his debut album, “Smiling with no Teeth,” they could also refer to a slur hurled at him as a child. Told by a defiant outsider, the album defies any genre classification and explores various themes such as identity, belonging, mental health, and success, using styles as different as rap, synth-funk, jazz, punk, and everything in between. His inspiration spectrum runs large: in an interview, he said he is equally inspired by Prince and Talking Heads, “but like if Prince were a rapper, in 2020, in Australia.” “Smiling with no Teeth” is an affirmation of musical and cultural diversity and is as entertaining as it is compelling.

The stage of the Roxy Theatre was clean and empty, with a wired fence in the back and some vibrant lighting, but wide open for the backup dancers’ performance; my only regret is that Genesis Owusu didn’t perform with a live band but sang over a tape. However, this didn’t bring the energy of the show down a bit, as he was commanding the crowd at the tip of his fingers. He made a brilliant demonstration of this mid-show when he played the audience from right to left as if he was the conductor of a large Acappella orchestra.

He arrived on stage like the spitting image of his album cover, bandages wrapped around his face, his gold teeth and rings shining through the red strobe lights, while singing “What Do I Fear,” and for 70 minutes, the energy on stage was mirrored by the public’s enthusiasm with a rhythm of waving arms and singing. The theatricality of the show was undeniable but also very appealing: shirtless with an unbuttoned black blazer, Genesis came back later wearing a red suit while the impressive lighting and the constant disjointed ballet of his backup dancers, fueled the energy of the show. His charismatic stage presence was a big success, he was jumping around while adding colorful noises to his playful and fluid delivery. During the fast-stomping rhythm of “The Other Black Dog,” he was almost barking after the line “A tale of Black dogs with golden leashes/Broken stories, told facetious/Who’s the pet and who’s the teacher?”

I was only very familiar with the catchy funky rap of “Gold Chains” and the defiant anthem of “Don’t Need You,” and, live, both songs were a huge success, triggering a massive crowd singalong: “Wait, could this be true?/I don’t need you/I don’t need you/Ah, wait, could this be true?/I don’t like you/I don’t like you”… however, everything he sang was received with the same euphoric reaction, from the freaked-out rap numbers to the wobbling synths of “Waitin’ on Ya,” to the smooth R&B of “WUTD,” sang with a Prince falsetto and some visceral ‘Wo-ahs.’  The smoothest number was just a few “1, 2, 3” screams away from another devilish rap party accompanied with visceral shrieks. The tribal and infectious beats of “I Don’t See Colours” were introduced with a crowd call out: “I don’t know, but I’ve been told: this racist shit is fucking old,” while his incredible flow kept accelerating during the mad stomping party of “Whip Cracker.” The pop anthem “A Song About Fishing” (written by his fellow countryman Kirin J. Callinan) could have felt like a fish out of water but it worked perfectly fine.

The set ended with the very upbeat and The-Revolution-like “Good Times,” before an encore with another highly energetic rap-rave and the theme of the night, “Black Dogs!” All night long, Genesis Owusu swirled between genres with ease, style, and jubilance while his fist-pumping performance was just a song away from triggering a punk show mosh pit.

What do I Fear
The Other Black Dog
Waitin’ on Ya
Gold Chains
I Don’t See Colour
Whip Cracker
Bye Bye
Don’t Need You
Wit’ da Team
A Song About Fishing
No Looking Back
Good Times
Black Dogs!

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