What is Music of Black Origin Anyway? Radio feature about Mobo Awards (16/11/2000)


This feature was broadcasted in 2000 on DW – transcript follows

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At the beginning of October, London hosted the MOBO awards, MOBO standing for Music of Black Origin. It is important to consider MOBO within Europe’s and North America’s history. “Black music” supposedly means by people with a black skin colour. For years, many black artists were pushed behind. Their songs were often copied by white performers to satisfy audiences, alienated by blacks. In the eighties and nineties, attempts to label music were made, to try to correct, decades of exclusion.

MOBO supporters hold the view that the drum was invented in Africa –as most music has a drum based rhythm – most music is held to be black. But why be specific here, if, most likely, the totality of humanity originated in Africa? Different folk traditions made use of drums –not always due to an African migration.

So. can music be separated into black and white? Kanya King is one of the founders and main driving forces behind MOBO, which this years saw fames like Lauryn Hill, and Armand van Helden, both of darker complexion, and Fat Boy Slim and Emi-nem, on the lighter side of shades. With her I discussed the meaning and history of MOBO:

Kanya King: “The MOBO award was founded through award and celebrity artists involved in the broad spectrum of music of black origin and that encompasses Hip Hop R&B, Gospel, Jazz, Reggae et cetera. Basically the MOBO awards are unique because they celebrate the basis of much popular music today, as well as saluting the rich history and cultural diversity apparent in today’s multi-cultural society. It’s only been going three years, this will be the fourth year. It goes out worldwide to an audience of over a 100 Million people.

I think there became a time when I said look, I’d been to see a lot of organisations I had the door slammed in my face: “Oh look this is niche music, It’s a niche event! “ I said: No it’s not a niche event! You only have to look at the sales pattern and politics of music today and you re realising we’re defining the future of world music. You know, the acts that we’re talking’ about are securing number one global hits around the world. In a way I said, what we’re trying to do is something positive. We’re trying to celebrate the music, we’re also trying to celebrate genres that often get overlooked in other mainstream award ceremonies.”

Daniel Zylbersztajn: ”But it seems like at the moment we have a little bit of circulation from awards to awards, especially big people like Lauryn Hill, Puff Daddy is certainly somebody who has been recognised by MTV awards and what have you!!

Kanya King: “These artists feel comfortably not only n specialist charts but also in mainstream charts. So there is a lot of talent out there. We have an award called the unsigned act award. Basically what we are trying to do is to provide a platform for them. What we’re saying is, most people would wholeheartedly agree that most forms of popular music today have their roots in black heritage, and that’s what we’re doing trying to celebrate that fact. It doesn’t matter the colour or creed of an artist.. It’s a bout the music that counts.

Daniel Zylbersztajn: “African musicians in Europe are pretty much marginalised, and also would deserve an award!?”

Kanya King: “You’ve got Hip Hop and R&B, that’s African music! It started with the drum! Gospel music and Reggae music is marginalised! What we’re trying to do is say there are many forms of African music. And African music is R&B and Hip-Hop as well!

Daniel Zylbersztajn: “But why haven’t you got an award for African music?”

Kanya King: “We haven’t got an award for English music!

Daniel Zylbersztajn: “I thought that the award us called music of black origin?”

Kanya King: “Why do we need to call an award for African music when it should be either highlife or Zoot – we have a ninety minute slot and we obviously try to reflect, you know, a reggae act performance. A dance act performance, a hip-hop act performance, a gospel act performance. If we can – we only have ninety minutes of television, so we can’t reflect everything although we’d love to. It’s a very difficult choice, because what you’re trying to do is to give something have something for everyone and even though we have people say: Oh. Can we have not have more reggae acts on our show performing – you should have more dance acts, you try to reflect as much as you can, obviously with the time that you have. What’s also important is that rock music as well, we have black artists. People see that very much as a white genre, obviously you have to look where it’s come from. What we’re trying to do is to focus on music that doesn’t necessarily always get the recognition.!”

Daniel Zylberstajn: “Can you explain a little bit, how was it like when you grew up? How was it like for most black people, in this country about this recognition?”

Kanya King: “Gosh – when I was growing up, it was very very difficult to hear my influences, I mean whether it’s Sam Cook, John Holt or Steve Wonder, I think the sales patterns and politics of music is changing, and it’s no longer niche music, it’s part of the main stream today which is very important and this is really what we were campaigning for to make sure that black music is not marginalised, like it has been done in the past.”

Kanya King organiser of the MOBO.

If MOBO would specify black musical invention that occurred at specific locations, maybe the growth of rap and hip-hop in poverty ridden black populated urban areas in the USA, It would maybe have more validity. MOBO only circles between Britain, the Caribbean and the U.S.A. Today, Hip-Hop and other music forms are made in other world locations too! Most critically, a black origin music award begs its opposite – a white award –an impossibility in contemporary Europe, except for white supremacists. Further, what exactly do the generalising words black or white people mean anyway? They seem to gain meaning only in the context of a Europe and America for several centuries prejudiced towards people of a darker complexion. In the musical context consider also that Europe’s own native musical traditions – white music in the ears of MOBO – have and are still often ridiculed as backwards and primitive, those who believe Europe is the only place with a higher culture. Perhaps what we really need is to re-evalue our understandings of music, beyond black and white?

For Deutsche Welle, I am Daniel Zylbersztajn in London.

2000 Interview with Kanya King, organizer of the MOBO award, on background and history of MOBO.

Originally aired on Cool.

recorded, presented and produced by Daniel Zylbersztajn,

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