Genesis Owusu – Tuning Fork: February 25, 2023

Genesis Owusu performed at Auckland’s Tuning Fork Saturday night. The 13th Floor’s Karen McCarthy and Leonie Moreland were there. Here are their photos and words.

In the beginning there was Genesis.

If you weren’t at Splore’s three-day extravaganza, or perhaps taking in Kae Tempest’s Friday night Powerstation show, or gearing up for some vintage Billy Bragg on Sunday night, you might have been one of the lucky few who turned out at downtown on Saturday night to witness Genesis Owusu strut his stunning stuff.

The Ghanian-born Australian nearly lifted .. nay, blew the roof off Auckland’s small but perfectly formed Tuning Fork with his genre-defying sonic palette, showmanship and star power. And that was even without his band. This night, it was backing tracks. And thanks to excellence on the mixing desk, it sounded spot on throughout. Hats off to the sound man. It can make or break a show. Tonight, top-shelf.

Genesis Owusu is generally referred to as a rapper, but that doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The music of this young high priest of hip hop has threads running through it of just about every other genre you can think of. Funk, soul, disco grooves, 80s synth, R ‘n B, industrial beats, new wave, no wave, ska, punk, rock. And the rest.

Think Beastie Boys, N.E.R.D,  Slow Thai, Smokey Robinson.  Aussie radio ‘Triple J’ singled out his talent early on. Kudos to them. Love-child of Prince, Childish Gambino and Nine Inch Nails they said. Hell, yeah.

He visits Auckland off the back of releasing his debut album Smiling With No Teeth  – 15 tracks spanning the aforementioned. Something of a concept album, addressing among other issues the complexities and subtleties of depression, self image, mental health, his experience of living as a black man in a white society. Growing up in the Australian capital, Canberra, it’s quite a story and he lays it all out in his songs.

Crossing the ditch for the first time, 24-year old Owusu  in turn mesmerised, energised, commanded and conducted his audience in song and dance from the moment he exploded on stage.

His onetime dreadlocks shorn, he’s wearing sunglasses at night. Of course.

Resplendent in a gold-buttoned, red and black matador outfit – cropped top and trou. Bare-chested this night. It’s hot in here. Lithe and loose of limb. Hips swivelling and swaying. A dancer’s moves,  the flexibility and grace of an athlete,  showmanship and style in every step he takes, making shapes, whipping the fans into a frenzy,  effervescence in abundance.

Genesis burst onto the small stage, lit sparsely but effectively, with three back-up dancers decked out in  menacing full-face balaclavas and bondage type gear. Red and black, in sartorial theme with their main man. His Goon Squad. Really, they’re called The Goons. Also on backing vocals. Three mates on stage with him for most of the show. All singing, all-dancing hype-men. Loose yet sharp. At times carefully choreographed. At others, it’s just a party on stage. Either way, it works a treat. Hi-energy. A visual feast. With Owusu always at its midst, front and centre, holding it all together.

“Auckland, are you alive?!!” he yells. “I wanna see you groove!”

He opens going hard out with ‘The Other Black Dog’. Funk. Rap. Propulsive beats. High revving. Punk’s ‘fuck you’ attitude. The energy on stage and emanating off it is palpable, infectious. The crowd is reeling, gleefully.

‘WUTD” dials it down. Smooth, soulful. We’re groovin’. Sweet background vocals and moves. We all smile. We all sing.

‘Void’ brings another shift in gear. In yer face. Louder. Anger and angst. Trapped in the void. It’s a rumble.

Hit single ‘Gold Chains’ hits every mark. Featured on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show when Genesis and band ventured stateside, it’s a stylish, silky smooth ode to the ups and downs of fame, rapping through the sophisticated lens of R ‘n B, funk-laced grooves. This one is reportedly on Barack Obama’s playlist. Yes, really.

Crowd participation is encouraged for ‘GTFO” (Get The Fuck Out). Chants ring out, as he eggs them on  “louder, louder.”

It’s like lightning and thunder as he barks out the lyrics, lying back at one point in a back-breaking manoeuvre to be held aloft by his Goons in a horizontal crucifixion pose. It’s theatrical. Powerful and potent. This man knows his craft. Sound and vision.

‘Get Inspired’ with it’s driving beat is ska. Evocative of ‘Slow Thai’ and even those other, much older Londoners ‘Madness’, the marvellous rude boys with their cheeky, choreographed dance moves. Genesis and his Goons are having a ball on stage. Close-range dancing. Faux combat-fighting. A hint of sirens amps up the energy. Tight. Exciting.

More stomping energy with ‘Don’t Need You” .. it’s a wild party up on stage ..  a Brockhampton-like ensemble performance … jumping and joyous despite the dark sentiment. “I don’t need you. I don’t like you.”  We all smile. We all sing.

‘Drown’ revs things up another level. Strobe lighting adds. Sounds a bit like Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’. But with a driving beat, hard edge, thunder and menace.

“Black Dogs’ is a song that should have him starring on a grunty Gorillaz track one day. Or writing one. Watch that space. He gets down off the stage and in the midst of the crowd at one point. Communing. They are in the palm of his hand.

Genesis looks genuinely happy to be here. No gold dental grille tonight, he’s often smiling, beaming. Tells us ‘Qantas lost our bags on the way here, so we’ve had to pare it right down, sorry.” We wouldn’t have known.

Getting everybody’s arms in the air swaying to and fro, ‘A Song About Fishing’ is a breezy folky ditty on the face of it. But the lyrics tell another story. It’s a recurring theme. Downbeat. Chill.

He comes out on stage alone for the start of ‘No Looking Back’. A ‘70s groove, showcasing his fine falsetto. Smokey Robinson vibes. There’s some sax even toward the end. Nice. Feeling groovy.

The night wraps up with ‘Good Times’.  Disco, soul, funk vibes. Energetic ending to a mighty show.

Mark of a true star in the making, the young man walks off stage and straight through to the merch desk at the back – the pickings are slim, but the fans are mostly queuing for selfies with him, beaming, grateful. And he obliges everyone, with good grace and humour.

He says he’d love to come back. With full band next time hopefully.  His Black Dog Band features guitarist Kirin J Callinan, bassist Michael DiFrancesco (aka Touch Sensitive), and World Champion’s Julian Sudek on drums. Owusu’s label manager Andrew Klippel, who assembled the band for live jam sessions which then led to the album, plays keys.

Can’t wait.

Karen McCarthy

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Leonie Moreland:

Genesis Owusu:


Genesis Owusu SETLIST

The Other Black Dog


Waitin On Ya


Gold Chains


Get Inspired

Don’t Need You


Black Dogs!

Wit Da Team

A Song About Fishing

No Looking Back

Good Times