Mobo founder: We are experiencing a watershed moment

Kanya King published an open letter this week, addressing racism in the music industry.

Mobo boss Kanya King has said that recent weeks have marked a “watershed moment” in the fight for racial equality.

King, from Kilburn in London, founded the Mobo Awards in 1996 to celebrate music of black origin, and the annual event has been an important launchpad for artists including Emeli Sande, Stormzy and rap duo Krept and Konan.

She said she had seen a shift in the public mood since the death of unarmed man George Floyd in the US, and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests in the US, UK and further afield.

MOBO announcement – Scotland
Kanya King with Alesha Dixon (Andrew Milligan/PA)

She told the PA news agency: “It’s uncomfortable sometimes to talk about race or racism. In the past I have been told not to ‘use the race card’ and you end up not wanting to say anything.

“I never wanted people to think I had a chip on my shoulder or I was one of these people who complain.

“I just like to get on with things but there has come a moment in time where major changes are going to happen. This is a catalyst moment. We are experiencing a watershed moment.

“Never in my lifetime have I witnessed all sorts of races, people from all over the world, different groups, who want to understand, who want to be educated.

“(They are) encouraging their friends, family, community, colleagues, to share their stories. This is pretty remarkable.

“People are wanting to learn. People are asking for materials – books, podcasts, programmes – and I have never experienced this before.”

King, who was made a CBE in the 2018 Birthday Honours List, said she now saw chief executives and owners of technology, sports and entertainment companies accepting the need to “have these conversations”.

On Wednesday, she published an open letter addressed to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, calling for racism in the music industry to “no longer be swept under a red carpet” and detailing the racist abuse her family had suffered.

Describing the public response to her letter, King said she had been “inundated” with messages from music industry figures and organisations.

“That feels very new to me,” she said.

“I have been in the industry a long time, having many, many conversations, and I have had lots of promises, fresh starts, pledges. A lot of empty words.

“But this time it feels very different. People are looking to become accountable.”

King also used her letter to announce plans for a national event, called United We Stand, to “empower organisations in their fight for equal opportunities”.

Speaking about the event, she said: “We had a lot of people who have reached out to us say they absolutely love it. We think the timing is now.

“We have loads of meetings lined up. For us, it’s about working with others, it’s about collaborating. The whole point is we are not doing it alone.”

The Mobo Trust, its charity branch, and Help Musicians have also expanded investment in their joint fund to £100,000.

The fund, which is in its fourth year, will offer awards of £3,000, plus one-to-one business advice sessions tailored to each recipient’s needs, coordinated by ThinkMusic.

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