Kanya King

MOBOs founder Kanya King tells us how she set up the event and helped bring ‘urban’ music to the mainstream…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 18 Oct 2013
  • min read
Kanya King MBE started the MOBO Awards 1996 back in a time when the world of pop  had a very different look and feel.

Back then the artists championed by the event were considered niche but fast forward to 2013 and many of them have gone on to become global superstars.

Tine Tempah, Emeli Sande, Ms Dynamite, Craig David and Estelle have all achieved success far beyond the confines of the UK and the MOBOs has played an important role in showcasing their music.

Since then the event has expanded into a TV channel and website while offering courses to aspiring musicians, DJs and producers. Kanya herself has received an MBE for her work and has been decorated by numerous organisations for her entrepreneurial skills. It’s a spirit she continually looks to foster in the emerging artists honoured by the MOBOs.

M managed to find some time in her busy schedule in the run up to the event to find out how it started and what the future for the MOBOs holds…

Why did you first set up the MOBOs?

I recently looked at our MOBOs magazine from our first event back in 1996 and I’d written the ambitious words ‘the MOBOs will become a universally recognised awards ceremony’.

It may have been considered naïve or just overly passionate but this message recognised the values and mission we started out with.

Looking back the awards was a pioneering event. The music we were championing was perceived as niche. I remember when we put on our first show, it had a good time slot on ITV and at the time there wasn’t a platform for artists who performed or wrote songs in hip hop, r’n’b, soul or reggae.

2013 marks the 18 year anniversary - did you imagine the event would still be going strong so many years after it started?

I thought we’d have a few years! But you know I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved and to be here celebrating our 18th birthday. It’s important to us and is definitely an achievement. We’ve seen so many acts who were emerging artists go on and become global superstars. We’re very proud of all the acts we’ve championed.

Do you still get excited by the event now as you did back then?

I definitely still have the same drive, passion and enthusiasm. It’s a bit like child birth. I think when you’re in labour and in the lead up to having a baby you probably think ‘why am I doing this?’ But when you put something on where these new artists with such talent go on to become global superstars, afterwards, you feel that the pain is worthwhile. The run up to the event is always a very exciting and very busy time.

Why did you decide to take the event to Glasgow?

Well we thought the passion was there for the event. We were approached by Event Scotland and Glasgow City Marketing Bureau after they attended our Wembley show. They thought this audience would really embrace the awards. Because we were blown away by the enthusiasm around the show we decided to take a chance and go up there.

People were a bit sceptical. How are you going to get music industry people to travel outside of central London? It can be difficult but it was one of the best things we could have done and we’ve been really embraced. As a result, we put on many events in the run up to the main awards. We have Celebrate MOBO, masterclasses, workshops and try to encourage young people to get into the creative industries.

Have you got any highlights from over the years?

Oh my god, I’ve got so many. At our nomination launch many people were saying So Solid, particularly after their iconic performance back in 2001. They were seen as these UK pioneers and they owned that stage. It was a mesmerising performance. But there are so many other moments that stand out for me.

We’ve been privileged to see so many young artists come through the awards. Like a young Emeli Sande, who performed in 2009 with Chipmunk at our very first Glasgow show. Amy Winehouse performing at a nomination launch, Tina Turner or Sade coming out of semi-retirement. Beenie Man at the Royal Albert Hall with P-Diddy calling him on stage.

How do you think the music industry’s attitude to the music the MOBOs champions has changed?

Nowadays if we look at acts like Emeli or Tine Tempah they are known for their music on a global scale. It’s no longer a small market they are tapping into. The scene is so much bigger. The majority of winners and performers are UK artists. They’re the superstars. But back when we started it was very different. In '96, it was more US-led. That has a been a massive change. It’s now all about the UK scene.

This year we have such a diverse range of music. Fuse ODG with afrobeat, gospel with Jahmene, then dance with Rudimental who have been the band of the summer. Hip hop and garage with So Solid and soul with Laura Mvula. Every genre is covered. It’s never been so diverse which makes it feel incredibly exciting.

It’s exciting to represent a wide range of music which is at heart beat of youth culture and give a platform to emerging talent who go on to achieve national and global success.

Which acts are you really excited about at the minute?

In'Sight won our MOBO UnSung competition and performed at our nominations launch. They received a standing ovation from everyone. Their harmonies are unbelievable. This is what I find so fulfilling about what I do. I see so much talent. But not just talent in terms of vocal ability. These days artists have everything. They produce, they write and are also very entrepreneurial. At our nominations night we had In'Sight and our previous MOBO UnSung winner – before I knew it they’d already agreed to work together. We try to facilitate this idea of networking and collaboration because to achieve success you need a team and support behind you. No one will get there alone.

What does the future have in store for the MOBOs?

We have a partnership with HTC and we work on a great deal of initiatives across the year. We produce multi-media content for news feeds – we produce it directly for their HTC devices worldwide. We want to continue support and champion talent through MOBO UnSung and basically help them to promote their music. There is a lot going on all year-round.

The MOBO Awards takes place on Saturday 19 October. See the full list of nominees.

Watch our interviews with nominated artists including Fuse ODG and So Solid Crew.