Finding new music today is both much easier and more difficult than it once was. 25 years or so ago, you might have heard it on a college radio station, or read a review in a magazine. MTV even consolidated the process with its 120 Minutes show back when they were about music. The avenues were limited, but much of the chore of auditioning stuff was already pre-sorted for you.
Today finding new music is as easy as turning on your computer. The overwhelming choices makes finding the good stuff more difficult, but no less rewarding when you strike gold. A few years ago I was casually searching for new music through the familiar web outlets I usually start with. Invariably I would end up on an obscure site that would have links to reviews or streams of music – not always new, but in all cases, new to me.
One of the best of those accidental finds came in the form of Owusu & Hannibal. The Danish duo are like regular people who happen to be talented music lovers. They are neither DJ’s or musicians in the traditional sense, but have a keen understanding of technology and the ability to apply it to their musical ambitions. They are a great example of how the internet and technology can be used to create music. Had Owusu & Hannibal been an American release on a major record label, they just might have made the R&B chart.
Despite coming nowhere near it, in America, they sound as mainstream as any R&B group you’re likely to hear on the radio. For that reason they would likely escape the ‘alternative soul/R&B’ label given to any ‘black sounding’ music that does not sound as fluidly acceptable as something that would dominate America’s R&B charts. U.S. R&B street cred or not, their album Living with Owusu & Hannibal was one of 2006’s best dance albums. A well conceived, arranged and executed project, it sounded as slick and polished as any thing from a veteran DJ or pop star.
The skillful blending of Detroit style hip hop, soul and Prince-like funk sounded like it could have come Cleveland, but instead came out of Copenhagen, Denmark. The down tempo beats (Bluejay), acoustic guitars and lush strings (Watch) drew from the duo’s Ghanaian, Danish, German and American connections. Robert Hannibal once stated that it was his intention to make soul music that picked up whatever influences they encountered along the way. One cant help but think that some of those influences could have been Prince or Bilal. The songs “Bluejay” and more specifically “Upstairs Downstars” sound as if they could have come straight from the B side of 1999.
Other songs like “Delirium” have the kind of vocal phrasing from Owusu we’ve come to expect from many neo soul artist like Maxwell or D’Angelo. Other than the fact that this caliber of R&B came from outside America (or England) is amazing enough and only shows how small the world has become. The basic constructs of soul music have become universal, especially with DJ culture accelerating its exposure and popularity.
Owusu and Hannibal never made it to the charts in the US, beyond the clubs, but they have had a more significant impact in Europe (as to be expected). So far the two have not recorded a followup, which is a bit of a disappointment considering how well this little cross cultural experiment turned out.