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MOBOs March 7, 2012

Posted by wallofsound in Cultural critiques, Soul.
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The MOBOs are UK-based music industry awards. It is easy to see that the awards are set firmly within the African American tradition when you know that the acronym stands for Music of Black Origin. The fact that the awards are organised in the UK, and are not presented to artists on the basis of their ethnicity or nationality, but for their performances within black or urban music forms is indicative of how influential the African American tradition has become in popular music across the world.

As well as being a remarkable entrepreneurial achievement for MOBOs’ founder, Kanya King, the awards have come to stand for the importance of black music within the UK. Each year there are awards for the best hip hop/grime, African, reggae, jazz, gospel, UK R&B / soul, and international artist, best video, song, and album, and a lifetime achievement award for industry stalwarts. The awards usually go to a very diverse group who represent something of the multicultural and multinational group of people who produce black and urban music. In 2011 they included the US black vocal group Boyz II Men, the white English R&B singers Jessie J and Adele, the Caribbean-born, US based black R&B singer Rihanna, the black British rapper Tinie Tempah, and white Italian-born, Jamaican-based reggae artist Alborosie.

Some of these artists clearly draw on the Tin Pan Alley tradition of songs and spectacular performance, and have been successful in the BRIT pop awards as well as the MOBOs. However, all these artists, whatever their family origins, would certainly situate themselves within the important relationship between music and black identity on which the African American tradition is founded. The MOBO artists represent a continuation of the commitment of white, as well as black, Britons to music originated in the US and the Caribbean, and on occasions to the devotion of the white negros and wiggers. Although the MOBOs use the term urban music when describing the area of music culture in which the awards are based, they are strongly tied to R&B as an associated music genre, and the discourse of music of black origin leaves no doubt to the importance of both the present and the tradition. Given that ‘urban’ was a term developed within US radio to distance a music commercially successful across a range of young people with stereotypes of black culture, this is an important connection.

The approach of all these artists demonstrate the importance of performance, immediate emotional impact, and expression in their work, and the impulses of independence, community and connectedness that are apparent in their clothes, verbal and body language as much as in their music. At one level the music and artists of the MOBOs seem a long way from Ellington, Brown, Marley and Jackson and yet on another they are clearly exactly in that tradition.

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