The MOBO 2016 Experience
Due to the constant debate surrounding the institution's legitimacy and its current stature in the music industry, I decided that I wanted to document my whole experience to give fans or sceptics a little bit more of an idea of what the MOBO Awards is about and what I feel they are trying to achieve..
For a few years now, I've experienced at least one of, if not the majority of the MOBO Awards' season of events including the nomination launch, the Pre-MOBO Award Show and the ceremony itself and I've regularly commented on or written about each individual experience. This time however, due to the constant debate surrounding the institution's legitimacy and its current stature in the music industry, I decided that I wanted to document my whole experience to give fans or sceptics a little bit more of an idea of what the MOBO Awards is about and what I feel they are trying to achieve.
My MOBO 2016 experience began when I was called up - for the second time - to join a number of artists and industry tastemakers in deciding the nominations for this year's awards categories as part of the Voting Academy. Due to my long-standing interest in the MOBOs (shouts to my parents for introducing me), I'm always honoured to be a part of the process and there are also a number of artists in this growing branch of the UK scene who I think deserve the mainstream market's attention, so I feel it's important I use this opportunity to support them. I also believe that, rather than having a panel of judges from major labels voting for major label artists, it's refreshing to see an institution champion the voices of the people who are on the frontline, immersing themselves in the music, whether it be from independent or signed musicians. This may mean that the results aren't based on sales and figures but in an industry where record sales are becoming less lucrative and it's becoming more about online and live circuit presence, who better to judge the winners than the people who are creating and maintaining those online platforms or photographing and reviewing those live shows? I might be a little bit biased as these are my peers and contemporaries but I'm confident I'm not alone in thinking this.
Following the voting process which required a bit of research and deliberation, it was time for the nomination launch. Taking place at Ronnie Scott's - one of the most prestigious music venues in London - the champagne reception saw Link Up TV's Remel London announce the shortlisted hopefuls before Kanya King gave her annual speech with a brief history of the MOBOs, its continuing ethos, and the significance of black music and its influence on popular culture. This for me is what needs to be remembered. Whether you disagree with a couple of the winner choices or you think one of the performances was a bit shit and they would have been better off booking someone else, the MOBOs have now been actively and consistently attempting to champion black music for 21 years, in an industry that doesn't always recognise its influence. I think sometimes the keyboard warriors who jump at the chance to criticise this particular institution need to remember that.
Before the show was over, WSTRN took to the stage for an acoustic performance of their platinum selling single ‘In2’ and their latest track ‘A-list’. I'd seen the trio perform quite a few times before the nomination launch but I still wasn't sure whether they had the ability to pull off an intimate acoustic set. Turns out they did. Perched on a line of stalls in true R&B boyband fashion, they gave a pretty flawless vocal performance accompanied by a guitar and a drum box, proving to listeners they're not just a one hit wonder and have a talent that suggests their longevity.
Next was the vote to decide the winners of each award. The categories had been narrowed down by the previous process, so now it came down to the vote of the academy (which counts for 50%) and the public vote (which makes up the other 50%) to decide who would be honoured at the November ceremony. The Best Album, however, was voted for solely by the selected tastemakers and Best Grime Act was decided by BBC Radio 1Xtra listeners.
Apart from a brief inner conflict, deciding whether to choose ‘Made In The Manor’ or ‘Konnochiwa’ for Best Album, this decision felt a little bit easier. Although there were clearly a few people who disagreed with me as there were a couple of acts I felt deserved to win, who didn't. After this was completed, it was time for the first awards to be announced at the Pre-MOBO Award Show at Cardogan Hall, where the Best R&B/Soul, Best Jazz, Best Gospel and Best African awards were presented.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Jazz, Gospel or African music, but after a bit of research, I felt confident in my decisions, and seeing a couple of the nominations I had backed perform live solidified that feeling. The two main highlights for me were the enchanting Ayanna Witter-Johnson - who's debut headline show I caught a few years ago - and Best African nominee Moelogo.
Ayanna brought her Cello out to embellish her interpretation of Alicia Keys' 'In Common' and captured the industry heavy crowd with her unfathomable presence and innate musical talent. Then, after a few of the obligatory technological malfunctions and missed queues associated with any live ceremony, Moelogo humbly arrived on stage.
Again, I've seen Moelogo perform before and I did rate him as a vocalist but, when it came to live shows, I'd only really seen him play the subordinate character, featuring on another artist’s track with catchy hook. Seeing his performance at the Pre-MOBO Award show fully changed my opinion. I knew he was wavey but the title track from his latest EP 'Ireti' completely consumed the crowd (which included his mum) and received a genuine standing ovation. I don't know whether it was the acoustics in the venue or the fact that I had swung by the bar a few times by this point, but the performance again reminded me why I was interested in the MOBOs and the artists they represent. And although neither of the two acts took home an award, I think a lot of people would agree with me in saying that Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Moelogo were two of the most notable performers on the night.
The evening, which was hosted by Lemar and China Moses, also saw the likes of Shakka, Esperanza Spalding, Guvna B, Wizkid and MOBO Unsung star Alika presented with awards. You can check out all the winners and performances in the clip below.
Following a number of events and presentations, including Ms Dynamite’s Paving The Way Award which was presented to the MC in London prior to the event, it was time for the ceremony, which this year returned to Glasgow. The SSE Hydro Arena was the setting and after the hopefuls and VIP guests arrived early to get there Instagrammable red carpet photos, the crowd settled and Laura Mvula opened the show. Despite her not being one of the artists I was there to see, Laura’s performance and her version of the Fugees’ ‘Ready or Not’, seemed like a decent way to start proceedings. However, for me, the running order of the ceremony could have done with a shuffle. The performances were all reasonably strong but I feel that acts like Chase & Status, who are seasoned pros, notorious for their enthralling live sets, shouldn’t have been billed before the likes of Professor Green, who in my opinion was a weak addition to the line-up after Tinie Tempah pulled out.
But let’s cast aside those minor grievances for a second and try and forget the fact that WSTRN’s Best Song celebrations were cut short when they were told the award had been given to the wrong person, and let’s focus on some of the highlights. One of those being a performance from the ‘comeback king’ and Best Male Act winner Craig David. Beginning with a taste of his now infamous TS5 DJ set, which took place in an illuminated cube, and then emerging on to the stage to perform garage classics including ‘Fill Me In’, Craig reminded us why the MOBOs backed him as a newcomer in 2000 and then again 16 years later. This appearance may seem insignificant but I feel it shows that the MOBO Awards has been highlighting the influence of black music and genres like garage on popular culture since its conception.
The night also saw up and coming UK artists such as Nadia Rose, Abra Cadabra and WSTRN recognised alongside the likes of international stars Drake and Popcaan but one of the most important awards for me was the Best Album award which was given to Kano.
I was a big fan of Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ and if you read my Rap Rundown column, you’ll be well aware of that but this award had to go to Kano. Skepta’s album has elevated grime’s profile on an international level and drawn attention to what was previously a small underground scene. However, Kano’s ‘Made In The Manor’ shined a light on a microcosm of British culture which I feel should be celebrated by UK award ceremonies like the MOBOs. He was honoured as the Best Newcomer ten years ago, and again, proving the institution’s consistency, was presented with one of their most prestigious gongs a decade later. Check out his acceptance speech below.
After the ceremony, which was concluded by a performance from Fekky and Best Hip Hop Act winners Section Boyz, it was time for the after party at Glasgow’s Distrikt nightclub which saw journalists, photographers and industry heads join the likes of Krept & Konan, Wretch 32, Avelino, Shakka, Frisco, Abra Cadabra, Kurupt FM and WSTRN in celebrating the success and growth of the UK music scene. And although there might have been a little bit of a scuffle during the party, it shouldn’t be associated with the awards themselves and shouldn’t distract from the achievements of the artists. People are quick to try and bring down UK award ceremonies but what they need to realise is that the MOBOs’ ethos is unwaveringly positive and its image should be celebrated by the media, not tarnished.
Growing up watching the MOBO Awards brought my attention to the eclectic, innovative and supportive nature of the UK scene. It also made me aware of the origins of the majority of commercial music and where genres like drum and bass, garage and grime were coming from. Now UK music is becoming an intercontinental infatuation, the MOBO Awards and its significance throughout the past 21 years needs to be recognised, whether the live ceremonies have been executed perfectly or not, and rather than questioning every small decision, we should be actively supporting what has become an integral part of UK music.
Words: Patrick Fennelly
Online Edit: Ra'ed Khan