Music

Genesis Owusu's debut album 'Smiling With No Teeth' doesn't shy away from issues of race

Ghanaian Australian artist Genesis Owusu speaks with Marco Werman about his experience growing up in Australia and how Prince inspired him to be true to himself.

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Ghanaian Australian singer Kofi Owusu-Ansah, known as Genesis Owusu, is releasing his debut album this week titled, "Smiling With No Teeth," which doesn't shy away from complex issues of race and mental health. 

Owusu recorded all 15 tracks before the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, and the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted worldwide. For some who follow his music career, Owusu was prophetic. 

His songs such as "On the Move," "Gold Chains," "I Don't See Color," and "The Other Black Dog" seemed to predict the racial tensions that have flared up worldwide.

But the Canberra-based performer says otherwise.

"In reality, it was much more like a Groundhog Day situation where I've seen these kinds of things so many times and I've experienced racial abuse so many times to the point where it's not a shocking occurrence to me," Owusu told The World. 

"The creation of the album wasn't me reacting to the current world events, [but] rather relaying what I had already seen and experienced."

Genesis Owusu

"The creation of the album wasn't me reacting to the current world events, [but] rather relaying what I had already seen and experienced."

Related: Ethiopian American musician Meklit Hadero: 'We use music to talk about the things that are hard to talk about'

Life began for Genesis Owusu in Ghana, followed by a move to Australia when he was two years old. Since he can remember, he said, he's been trying to fit in and fighting for social justice. He realized as a young person growing up in the Australian capital, Canberra, that there were two paths he could choose. 

"I could either try and assimilate a bit more into the culture or kind of diverge and really wear the badge of an outcast as a badge of honor."

Genesis Owusu

"I could either try and assimilate a bit more into the culture or kind of diverge and really wear the badge of an outcast as a badge of honor," he said. Owusu chose the latter.  

Related: Artist Shungudzo feels an urgency to 'use her words' to fight against racism

Owusu said Prince has been a big influence on his career, both musically and personally. Prince stuck close to his artistic integrity without bending to societal pressure when creating his music. That struck close to home for Owusu, who tries to balance pleasing his fans and truly expressing himself as an artist.

"You could love it or you could hate it, but he's still going to be Prince. I just tried to adopt that same unrelenting energy on everything that I do."

Genesis Owusu

"You could love it or you could hate it, but he's still going to be Prince. I just tried to adopt that same unrelenting energy on everything that I do," Owusu said.

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