Living With Owusu and Hannibal is the debut album from Danish duo Philip Owusu and Robin Hannibal. Packed with street smarts, a cheeky sense of humor and forward thinking production this soul-tinged debut is made up of (mostly) down tempo songs. Juxtaposing glitchy digital beats, fat bottom end, and shiny synths with acoustic guitars and lush strings they retain their warmth and organic vibe but have been given a thorough roughing-up around the edges.
After the dreamy intro (sung in Danish by local school kids) Living With Owusu and Hannibal kicks off with the appropriately blues-y vibe of “Blue Jay” (a song about an immigrant night worker) that sits guitar and gospel-shaded vocal on top of a disjointed beat and eighties flavored keys. “Lonnie’s Secret” and “Another Mile” take the bpms up several notches with rubbery bass lines, while “Watch” is a string laden ballad (about a guy falling in love with a girl in a movie) with an unexpected twist. Eschewing all the rules the album features full and partial songs, instrumentals and tracks that sound just as good intimate, in your headphones, as they do blasting through a car or club sound system.
“We’ll give you another take on the soul genre with references to whatever we’ve picked up on along the way,” says Hannibal. “Living With Owusu and Hannibal is just our perspective,” he adds. With Ghanaian, Danish, German and American roots the pair mixes an eclectic cultural heritage in their melting pot of sound. “We met through a mutual friend, and quickly started talking through 50 years of music. We found out we were listening to some of the same stuff and shared an almost religious respect for Sly Stone,” remembers Hannibal. “Robin told me his Dad’s name was James Braun. That closed the deal,” jokes Owusu.
Renting flats on opposite sides of the main street Owusu and Hannibal hail from Noerrebro, the hip inner city neighborhood in Copenhagen, Denmark. Living With Owusu and Hannibal is the soundtrack to living in this city within a city. “A lot of younger people moved in, renovated the facades, buildings and opening local spots. It has a young multi-ethnic edge to it. Sometimes I don’t even get out the neighborhood for weeks. I owe a lot of my inspiration and lust for music in making it to Noerrebro,” explains Hannibal.
99% of the album was created by the duo. “We only brought in a live drummer to add energy here and there, and a trumpet player accomplished what neither of us could on “Caroline No“,” says Hannibal. “I walk around with a recorder and always take down my thoughts and ideas, some of which ended up on the album. It’s easier to make the slower more melancholic tracks, because they’re more in line with our mood and city living, but there are a number of up tempo ideas that came to us, too, so that’s how you end up with “Lonnie’s Secret”, “Another Mile” etc,” says Owusu. The duo try to avoid having fixed routines and fixed roles in the production of music, which means that anything goes and they’re free to try out new ideas. “A song might be initiated by either of us, where the other will pick it up and continue on the idea – we have two independent setups so we often work apart and then fuse whatever we’ve come up with at the end of the day,” explains Owusu. “As a result of that we usually end up with far too many ideas for each track and a lot of the work is actually choosing and cutting away bits and pieces!” he adds.
“While soul music is the foundation, none of it is pure soul, it’s a fusion of genres mixed with soul. I don’t know about futuristic, but it’s definitely the sound of us right now, hopefully it’s classic,” says Hannibal. “The melodies often have the feel of children’s songs like “Le Fox” where the idea was to try and make a song you could jump rope to,” adds Owusu. “”What It’s About” sounds like a children’s song, but it’s not. We like mixing the innocent playful vibe with the cold, digital and darker elements like synthesizers,” he enthuses. The playful approach to soul and R’n’B helps them avoid the usual cliches that can plague the genre musically and lyrically. While the album covers subjects as broad ranging as integration problems, dodgy political alliances, incest, and insomnia, the duo are usually evasive when it comes to discussing lyrical themes in depth. “We like to disguise the meanings and simplify so we don’t sound like we’re preaching. Also we actually like that people think the songs are all about girls and fooling around, it adds a certain playfulness to the album and sometimes I’d prefer people conjure images in their own minds and link those images to their own personal experiences.”
“Delirium” and “Blue Jay” were the first two tracks that Owusu and Hannibal ever played to Ubiquity Records and the moody Detroit-style next-level hip hop flair landed the duo a deal. Both tracks appeared on multiple compilations and singles making fans of folks like Trevor Jackson (Output), Morgan Geist (Metro Area), and Gilles Peterson (Radio 1). “We used the shuffling beats on those two and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t have an album routed only around that sound or style. So we took things track by track, starting usually with melody first,” says Owusu. “There are lots of big vocal arrangements and harmonies, so Charles Stepney was obviously a big inspiration,” he adds. “The album is full of so many influences, it was an intense experience putting it together,” adds Hannibal.
While Hannibal was part of the Nobody Beats the Beats collective, Owusu released a 12″ on Naked Music under the name Owusu & Green. But it’s only since the beginning of 2005 that the Owusu and Hannibal partnership has been in action. “With only two of us we’d disagree quite often, usually we fight it out, but obviously I need go to the gym,” jokes Hannibal. “There is teamwork and compromise, and for the most part the diplomacy made it a better outcome.”
Despite this truly Scandinavian approach the duo don’t necessarily view the album or themselves as being specifically Danish. “It’s not a very Danish record, but then as people we might not be very Danish,” says Owusu. “I guess we feel more international,” adds Hannibal, “But the intro and outro are in Danish. They’re sort of an ode to our country and some of our roots. Bringing in a home town influence.”
“The kids in the intro’ sound so cheeky and innocent,” says Owusu. “Hearing them always puts me in a good mood.” Hannibal adds that “The outro’ is a bit more romantic. It’s about a journey, about having the sky above your head and letting emotions pour out of you.”
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