'Our strongest awards yet': Kanya King on this year's MOBOs

Kanya King

The 22nd annual MOBO Awards take place this evening at the First Direct Arena in Leeds.

Hosted by Maya Jama and Marvin Humes, and with live performances from the likes of Cardi B, Stefflon Don and Tokio Myers, the event will – as ever – celebrate the best in urban music and is broadcast later in the evening on Channel 5.

After a huge year that’s seen him perform at the BRIT Awards and the MTV EMAs and score a gold album with Gang Signs & Prayer, Stormzy leads the nominations with five, while Music Week cover star J Hus has four.

The ceremony has come a long way from its first event in 1996, so Music Week sat down with founder and CEO Kanya King to talk about the past, present and future of MOBO…

How are things looking for this year’s event?

“There’s a huge amount of excitement. The MOBOS show is so unique because, what other show has such a diverse range of music acts performing? We’re going to have people flying in from Africa, from America, Europe, Jamaica – that’s pretty special. On one stage [you’ll go] from jazz to Afro beats to grime and hip-hop and I just don’t think there’s any other show that has that wide array of artists performing. And to be the first [UK] TV platform where Cardi B is performing is great. It will be probably our strongest awards yet.”

What made you want to come back to Leeds?

“We had such a fantastic experience when we were last in Leeds in 2015. I remember 2009, that was the first time we had a show outside of London [in Glasgow] and I expected more people to think, ‘Wow, isn’t that brilliant?’ But actually people mainly were thinking, ‘Wow, that’s never going to work!’ (Laughs) But, actually it has worked, because the audience are so enthusiastic. You take over the whole city and there’s lots of excitement. When I arrived at the train station, everything was MOBO designed and inspired, it’s just amazing. It’s like the Olympics taking over London.”

Grime has had a big year on the charts, what does that mean for the MOBOs?

“Stormzy was a breakout grime star the last time we were in Leeds. He picked up multiple awards, but he still had another job at the time. I remember him saying he was wondering whether to leave his job or not! He’s worked so hard. I’m just proud of all the success he’s received.”

The awards have helped a lot of new artists over the years…

“There’s been so many! From Emeli Sandé to Craig David, lots of artists have come through and been on the show, even Amy Winehouse performed. So many artists have been given a platform; that’s made a big difference and a big impact.”

As urban music becomes more mainstream, does that make putting on the MOBO Awards easier or harder?

“That’s an interesting one. People are just realising the array of music genres we support. If you look at our nominations, the list is everything from gospel, jazz, African music… It’s so diverse. So it’s great that grime has reached international status, we’ve been supporting grime music since 2001. So that’s a lot of work that goes into it, day-in day-out, before you get this mainstream [appeal]. It’s great because there’ll be new musical genres that emerge and obviously we hope to be supporting them in the beginning as well.”

Does it mean you’re up against the BRITs and other awards ceremonies when it comes to performers though?

“No. If you look at the Brits it’s a different array [of artists]. You might have one or two [MOBO artists] that might perform on the BRITs, but there’s a lot of other artists that haven’t got any platform anywhere else, so it’s unique in that sense.”

Stay tuned to musicweek.com for further MOBOs coverage.

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