You can’t talk about the nature of genres in modern music without discussing globalisation. From the birth of pop music as such in the 1950s through to the ‘90s, the US and UK dominated the global market to such an extent, that whatever was big in those countries was big, full stop. With a few media outlets in each of those countries dominating the pop culture discourse, this meant that consensus was the norm: movements and sounds in those countries, from rock’n’roll to rave, became the defining trends of particular time periods.
In the information age, though, that’s no longer the case. Acts from South Korea, West Africa and Latin America competing on the international stage stage with those from Anglophone countries are emblematic of the de-centring and globalisation of music today. Rather than arising in one place and spreading out, trends and styles now move in waves across the planet, intersecting and hybridising in different ways according to different cultural conditions. This means the idea of a “sound of now” is increasingly an impossible concept.
Instead, we increasingly have artists like the 22-year-old Ghanaian-born, Australian-raised Kofi Owusu-Ansah, aka Genesis Owusu. Artists who draw on untold strands past and present to make sense of their world and identity. Owusu grew up in the overwhelmingly white city of Canberra, and with no local role models for a young Black man it’s clear that American culture has provided him with a lot of touchstones: his debut album is rooted in an alt-funk lineage that roughly runs from Prince through Outkast and N*E*R*D to Kendrick Lamarr, and indeed his singing voice tends towards American inflections.
But it’s the supplementary influences that make this a unique record. At points it touches on post-rave music like The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers (the intro “On the Move!”), rowdy post-punk of the kind we’ve heard recently from Slowthai (“Black Dogs!”), early ‘00s disco-punk (“Whip Cracker”), ‘80s electropop (“Easy”), John Hughes’ movie soundtrack power pop (“Drown”), and most remarkably, a kind of funky Leonard Cohen vibe (“A Song About Fishing”). Add to that an unorthodox way with words – lines like “we don’t roll with Neo Nazi spew” will make you double-take even on repeat listens – and Owusu’s accent slipping between Brit, Aussie, West African and American, and it’s all got the potential to be deeply confusing.
With a less determined vision, it probably would be. But Owusu’s vision is determined. He’s as literate as he is musically voracious, and absolutely focused on using the diverse lyrical and musical tools at hand to express an overwhelming sense of anger and sorrow alongside pride and funky swagger. So while he does slide between styles and accents, this doesn’t feel like some grandiose adoption of personae – rather, it is the culturally fractured self (which we all are to some degree in this oversaturated world) expressing itself in as much totality as it can. There is an honesty to this diversity that is deeply appealing. Sometimes it does get confusing, mind, and Owusu isn’t a Prince or Andre3000 – yet. But to achieve what he has at this young age is pretty extraordinary, and the promise shown in this album is just immense.
Cover Image: TBD
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs