If you’ve ever watched Succession’s first season or planned to visit Paris, chances are high that you’ve heard of the infamous neighborhood of La Bastille. What was a pivotal moment in France’s 1789 Revolution became a couple of centuries later one of the most frequented neighborhoods for a night out. It isn’t typically the quarter where concert-goers would happen to find themselves, as most of its frequentation is composed of club-attendees and cocktail-drinkers. Yet, either for the annual Pitchfork Music Festival or some occasional live music, you could see local talents at the Supersonic! or international names at the Café de la Danse for instance.
During a raining-as-usual November evening, I rushed to the latter, Vélib-riding my way, equipped with a professional camera and a Media accreditation, to attend Genesis Owusu’s 2nd show in the French capital. After playing four different dates in 2022 all over the country in just a span of 3 weeks for his Smiling With No Teeth Tour, his second attendance in our city was more than welcomed. Beating the one-album wonder allegations (were they any, actually)- Kofi Owusu-Ansah came back with even more to prove. His sophomore project STRUGGLER released in the second half of August, slightly interrupting UTOPIA’s shine and stealing some attention from Noname’s Sundial. At Tonitruale, we deeply appreciated the project and reviewed it right here.
But moving on from Owusu’s introduction, you can join me right now to his hype-inducing show.
Unlucky that I am, I couldn’t be in attendance of his first show in Paris, yet I was clearly not giving up on that one. As I arrived about a half-hour before the opening act, I managed to cut a very long queue of attendees all eager to get a good sight of the Australian rapper (perks of having that media pass that I mentioned earlier).
The stage, as small as it is, - not surprising for a venue with a capacity of 500 people -, was already set for Owusu. A striking mirror-and-lights construction was standing still, with a few curtains to hide its reflective aspect.
As my camera was set, joined to the stage a DJ quickly followed by Jords, a London southern-suburbs based rapper who got mostly known with his two COLORS performances and his first mixtape Means To An End. Throughout his time on stage, Jords performed songs from his sophomore album DIRT IN THE DIAMOND, for which he also released a 20 minutes Short Film on YouTube that I highly recommend you to watch. It isn’t that often that we get to see visuals that are more cinematographic, that effort is to salute. Even if Jords’ energy on stage has more differences than similarities to Owusu’s, he effortlessly managed to capture the audience’s attention through each song. His comforting aura, which he displayed both with his rapped performances and his exchanges with the crowd, outshined the entire lighting system that the venue had to offer, and this is without criticizing Le Café de la Danse. He reached the most captivating moment during his performance chanting a capella for a good minute in front of the fascinated attendees.
After quite an opening act, it'd be disappointing for the attendants not to demonstrate such engagement for the main act. Lucky for Genesis Owusu, they actually did. As the lights went down and the first notes for Leaving The Light were playing, loud cheers were immediately heard and phones were quickly raised, for a chance to capture a sight of the prominent figure getting on stage. Wearing a large black-and-red cassock, hiding also a long skirt equipped with leather garments, Owusu immerses the public into his Biblical-and-existentialism-oriented second album. The room is now bathed with stroboscopic lights as he’s exclaiming “Better run, there’s a God/And He’s coming for me”. Everyone around me is euphoric to be in the presence of the most talented newcomer in Australian Hiphop.
At the end of quite a delirious song to begin with, Owusu empresses to fully uncover the mirrors of his lights construction and follows by playing Survivor. At the time of the show, that song is yet to be released, and it’s with great satisfaction that the audience received it. Owusu is now embracing the light and proceeds to move around the stage, directly facing each section of the venue almost as if he was engaging with each single person in the crowd. It is a one-man show and the rapper definitely doesn’t want us to feel a lack of background dancers. He is the Roach, the Struggler, the only character of the story.
As Survivor comes to an end, the first interlude plays. During these, Owusu stands still, face enlightened by an open book that a recorded voice reads out loud to everyone. Even his short breaks between songs further pushes the religious iconography represented by the album.
Funny enough, he fervently performs The Old Man right after the interlude. Leaving the stroboscopic and white lights behind, the room finally fills with some colors, such as vibrant shades of purple, fuchsia and deep blue that accompany the fourth song played that night: See Ya There. It is one of those songs that made me regret the lack of live instrumentation. Although, the song managed nonetheless to get the crowd to join Owusu and slowly dance, bouncing from side to side.
He then proceeds to insert some Smiling With No Teeth songs in a setlist mostly following STRUGGLER’s tracklist. We had the chance to hear Waitin’ on Ya, followed by Gold Chains, without him ever stopping his intense gestures and dance routines. Stage presence is one skill that Owusu definitely mastered, and it reflected during each song as the audience was mimicking him. STRUGGLER got its spotlight back when he started performing Tied Up! and That’s Life (A Swamp) with swallowing orange-yellow-red lights, adding even more substance to their catchy hooks. I remember having a difficult time taking good pictures of him as everyone around me was jumping around, even making the floor tremble. That groovy intermission concluded beautifully with WUTD producing some of the loudest joint performances from Owusu and his fans, apparently very satisfied with this expectable addition. But do not forget what we were all here for: cynicism and existential complaining.
After the second Biblical interlude, Genesis Owusu begins to play the eccentric Balthazar which brought the audience back to some moderate mosh pitting. Came right after Get Inspired, a song that didn’t make it to STRUGGLER, yet offered the very first visual at the symbolic outfit and makeup connected to his second album. He completes that third part of the show with the irresistible Don’t Need You, an hymn that succeeds to make everyone in the room sing along, even when they don’t initially know the song.
A short break arrived right after, during which Kofi took the time to directly thank the audience for attending and explain the concept behind STRUGGLER. “Pretty fucking wacky album, it’s about roaches and existentialism and bunch of weird shit he jokingly starts, before affirming that “at its core, it’s really about us. It’s about humanity, (...) our stubborn perseverance and ability to make it.”. Owusu adds that this human perseverance through difficulties is “a strength that we all have within us that I don’t think we appreciate in ourselves”.
As his short speech ended, we entered the final part of his show, consisting of Stay Blessed, STRUGGLER’s first single What Comes Will Come, A Song About Fishing and finally as an Encore, obviously, The Roach. This final segment contained many memorable moments, such as the rapper directly joining the crowd to sing with them, more energetic dance moves and definitely a lot of applause.
For such a small venue, Genesis Owusu managed to deliver a high-energy performance that just kept on going. Even with the different variations in energies and moods, the audience was engaged and the lights were matching what was playing. With such a strong stage persona and dedication to offer a performance to remember, I doubt this is the last of him we’ll get to see. No matter the usual autumnal cold, it’s with a warmed heart that the Parisian roaches went with their small lives.