The MOBO awards are yet again drawing near. Having launched 14 years ago in 1996, it was the first music award show to recognise urban music. Its purpose was to bring black music to the forefront and break it into the mainstream. The 90s gave birth to an abundance of musical talent so there was definitely something to celebrate.

Looking back on the early days of the awards there was no denying the ‘urban’ roots of the nominees. You could easily identify the reggae vibes, the soul vocals and the jazz influences from the likes of Tina Turner, John Legend to Dizzee Rascal. But, today it seems the music industry is so driven by commercial gain and the Simon Cowells of the world, that there is nothing much but manufactured pop creations for the pickings.

The scene has becomes increasingly diluted and it poses some questions about the MOBO’s current purpose. For instance, with RnB turning into ‘Pop’ rather then ‘Pop-RnB’, and hip hop turning into bubble-gum rap are we still celebrating what is essentially ‘urban’?

While the nominees for the Brits and Q clearly have their place at their awards, many of the MOBO nominees could easily pick up a trophy at any other mainstream award ceremony. Just look at the list of nominations for 2009.

Why is Lady Gaga included as Best International Act? How does Beverley Knight feel to be up against ‘Birthday Shhh’ Jeremih? Why is a Eurovision Song Contest winner Jade Ewen being nominated at the MOBOs? While these acts are all great in their own right, it feels as though we’re clutching at straws for nominations. The Eurovision Song Contest has its reputation, but it’s not for producing quality urban acts.

On one hand, should we deny music that is of black origin because just because it has marketing itself to the masses? But in opening up urban music to the mass market have we potentially damaged its credibility? Should we be selfish enough to shun the music that the world wants to buy into, in an attempt to keep it on the underground; untouched, untainted and in many cases even unheard. Or should we celebrate its new found fame in the music world?

Overall I think the MOBO’s has its place, but it is the urban music scens that needs a shake up – to get back the R-Kelly vibes and Stevie melodies. What can we do to bring ‘quality’ back to urban music before urban music quickly loses its identity? Maybe this could be the MOBO challenge.

Words by Selina Campbell



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