Tonight the music and entertainment industries celebrate one of the biggest nights of the year: The 2017 BRIT Awards. Since the #BRITsSoWhite controversy last year, there has been much discussion around the measures that have been taken to address it. Commendably, BPI were among the first to admit that something needed to be done, and have put a lot of effort into addressing it in 2017. It's rewarding to see the number of MOBO winners and nominees now up for their first BRITs, including Craig David, Emeli Sandé, Stormzy, Kano and Skepta.
MOBO has been working towards greater inclusivity since we first started in 1996 and since then the landscape has changed beyond all recognition. When we launched we were the only event of this kind in Europe, and little was expected of us. We made a very tiny budget go a long way, and went from strength to strength,although it has been far from easy journey, demonstrating the scale of the market that the mainstream industry had been missing... To such an extent that now there's tons going on! Digital has obviously played a massive part with the rise of platforms like GRM Daily and LinkUp TV. The highlight of this year's traditionally indie, rock'n'roll NME awards was that spectacular performance by Wiley. This all goes to demonstrate what's possible and how many more opportunities are opening up for young people - wherever they come from.
The big question on everyone's minds at the moment is whether this is pure reaction to last year's furore, or whether it represents a genuine long-term shift towards greater acceptance of and access to the mainstream for black artists and genres such as Grime. The view at MOBO is that obviously it can only be a good thing that diversity is being embraced by the mainstream. Bear in mind that in 1996 we were told constantly that there was no audience for the genres we were promoting, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary on the street and in crowded nightclubs across the country. In that context, this year feels like a huge step up...
Every year MOBO identifies and celebrates around 70 nominees, for many of whom this is their first major TV platform and the start of a successful journey towards mainstream acceptance from awards such as Mercury and the BRITs. For many aspiring artists MOBO is the first dream, the first hurdle to overcome and the first step onto the ladder of success. We're very proud of our place in the creative industry ecosystem: at the forefront of discovering that talent and shining a light on it for the rest of the industry to follow. Only time will tell how deep the industry's commitment runs however, and the risk remains the same: that there's a disconnect between what is reported in mainstream media and what's happening at street level. We heard recently that one London borough is banning Grime gigs - a whole genre! So work remains to be done.
Given all this change, occasionally we're asked why it's still important for the MOBO Awards to exist as a separate event or whether music of black origin should be absorbed into other more mainstream awards ceremonies.
The MOBO Awards hold a unique and important place in the music industry - we have it on good authority from many of the artists currently nominated for BRITs that MOBO gave them the inspiration and confidence to work hard and go for it, as well as the platform to be seen for the first time by audiences of millions. For example BRITs Best Breakthrough nominee Stormzy said" "When Krept&Konan won their first MOBO - they are from my area - I thought... I'm having a go as well..."until eventually, "I'm a child of Grime, so for me to go and win the first ever Grime category for the MOBOs...that's just an honour."
Look at the winners of last year's MOBOs: the likes of Lady Leshurr, Abracadabra and Krept&Konan aren't up for BRITs this year, but by winning the MOBOs for Best Female and Best Song respectively history tells us that it's just a matter of time before they are more widely celebrated. We are hugely proud of the support we are able to give artists - no matter their background - to champion them in their quest for success. Our Best Newcomers and even our unsigned UnSung artists consistently go on to achieve great things. It's a joy to work with them.
Of course, the issue of diversity extends far beyond just the music industry, and much has been made in the media recently of its importance in many sectors. While all that's great to see, without commitment and consistency the risk is it's just a flash in the pan. Having recently celebrated our 21st birthday, MOBO's long-term goals include creating access to learning and genuine opportunities, and building a supportive framework to motivate young people from as broad a range of backgrounds as possible to step up and be their best selves.
We wish all tonight's nominees the very best luck in the world. Frankly whatever happens, even being nominated is a fantastic achievement. The future is yours!
Kanya King is the CEO and founder of the MOBO Organisation