Genesis Owusu and Alex Turley pose for a portrait in front of the Sydney Opera in Sydney, Australia on December 13, 2022.
© Bart Celestino / Red Bull Content Pool

"Drama, theatre and grandeur": Inside Genesis Owusu's boldest show yet

The boundary-pushing artist will perform alongside a 40 piece orchestra at Sydney Opera House as part of Red Bull Symphonic. Here's what he has planned.
By Katie Cunningham
6 min readPublished on
Genesis Owusu will always remember waking up on the morning of December 18, 2021.
“My phone was going off so much that it buzzed me and woke me up and I had all these notifications,” he tells Red Bull. “The first one I clicked on was the YouTube notifications, and it was like 20 comments saying ‘Barack Obama sent me here’ on the Gold Chains music video. I was like, what the fuck does that mean?”
Then Owusu went on Instagram and saw that the former US President had included him on his list of the best music of the year, alongside the likes of Nas, Little Simz and the War On Drugs. “And yeah, it was surreal,” Owusu laughs.
Getting noticed by one of the most influential figures of our time once would have seemed outrageous for 24-year-old Genesis Owusu, real name Kofi Owusu-Ansah. But now it just seems like an indictment of how far his star has risen. In 2021, Owusu-Ansah released his debut album, Smiling With No Teeth (which included Obama’s fave, Gold Chains). It swept the ARIA Awards, earning him the pointy trophies for Album of the Year, Best Hip Hop Release and Best Independent Release, as well as earning him the year’s prestigious Australian Music Prize, cementing his status as one of Australia’s most innovative and important artists.
It was an album that swung big and contained important messages – the sort that can challenge audiences. A lesser artist might have been afraid of pushing the needle that far, but not Genesis Owusu.
“In the process of making that album, I always just wanted to stick to my vision no matter what. But even so, no one could really know how the world and Australia especially would receive it,” Owusu-Ansah reflects. “And for me, it was all just about executing that vision to its highest mark, no matter what the results or consequences were. So it was really gratifying that it actually worked out in that realm. And I feel like it’s signified a changing of the guard and a new mark in Australian music.”
Since Smiling With No Teeth was released, life has looked a little different for Owusu-Ansah. While he still technically lives in Canberra, the city he moved to from Ghana as a young child, he barely manages to spend more than a couple of days there at a time now. Around the non stop touring that he’s been busy with, he has been working on a new album, assembling what the next chapter of Genesis Owusu will look like. But before we get to hear that, Owusu-Ansah is capping off an incredible few years with a very special show that will celebrate his music to date: Red Bull Symphonic.
Genesis Owusu at the Sydney Opera House for Red Bull Symphonic.

Genesis Owusu at the Sydney Opera House.

© Bart Celestino / Red Bull Content Pool

On March 23 at the Sydney Opera House, Owusu will perform together with the 40-piece Sydney Symphony Orchestra. His plan is to deliver drama, theatre and grandeur.
“It feels like a great progression of what I imagined my live shows would end up like,” Owusu says. “Obviously I won't be bringing around a 40 piece orchestra everywhere. But when I build my shows, in whatever configuration, there's always an air of theatrics.”
Anyone who has seen a Genesis Owusu show before knows how spectacular they are: he raps, he sings, he dances, and he commands the stage with all the charisma of a cult leader. Red Bull Symphonic will see him up the ante on his already-incredible live shows even further.
Obviously I won't be bringing around a 40 piece orchestra everywhere. But when I build my shows, in whatever configuration, there's always an air of theatrics.
Genesis Owusu
Red Bull Symphonic is a tested formula that allows Australia’s best artists to reimagine their music on an incredible stage. For some artists, it’s a chance to show off lesser-known sides of their discography, busting out their slower songs. But Owusu-Ansah wanted to stick with his most beloved tracks so that their orchestral reimagining would be even more profound.
“I think because they’re such staples, it is more interesting to hear it in a different light, rather than something that hasn't really been heard as much – like, it would be harder to gauge the grandeur of and the difference between the two versions,” he says.
To bring the show to life, he’s been working with string arranger Alex Turley, who has been instrumental in translating the tracks over to the very different medium of orchestra. Owusu has taken the reins with the visual element of the show, thinking big for how everything should look on the “grand stage” of the Opera House. Before the big night, he’ll spend two days rehearsing alongside the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
But there are a couple of newer tracks likely to make it into the setlist: GTFO and Get Inspired, the pair of singles Owusu-Ansah has put out since the album. He says both tracks are a teaser for what’s to come in the new era.
Sonically, we can expect things to head in a punkier direction.
“I feel like when I released Smiling With No Teeth, I didn't know what that was. I still don't know what it is, but someone somewhere called it ‘neo-soul’ and people kind of ran with it. It’s like, if that's neo-soul, then it was neo-soul in a way that I had never heard before. So I guess in that same vein, this next album is rock or post punk album in a way that I've never heard of before.”
Thematically, Owusu is entering the season of the roach.
He says the cockroach motif – one eagle-eyed fans would have spotted in his recent music videos, live visuals and on his Instagram – signifies surviving in spaces where you might not necessarily be welcomed.
“God himself can stand in the way, but you just gotta keep moving – that's the ethos of this next section of music,” he describes.
But right now, the focus is on celebrating a debut album that did incredible things at Red Bull Symphonic.
“My vision is to reinvent some of the best tracks of my catalogue into something even grander and more dramatic than they were originally presented,” Owusu-Ansah says. “To just put things in a dramatic new context, just keep having fun with the songs that I've already put out and keep giving them new life.”
The show is already sold out. But there is one guest he might be able to squeeze in.
“Obama, if you ever want to come to a show, hit me up,” Owusu-Ansah says. “I will put you on the door.”