Urban Legends - MOBO Awards 2009 come to Glasgow
On 30 September the MOBO Awards descend on Glasgow’s SECC, complete with a cavalcade of UK and international chart toppers and legions of their devoted fans. Nicola Meighan talks to African music legend Baaba Maal and rising Glaswegian soul star Emeli Sandé about the meaning of the MOBOs and the rise and rise of the UK’s own hip-hop superstars
‘You’ve heard of us, even if you don’t know it yet. Remember that boy driving you mad on the bus, playing music on his mobile at full volume? He’s listening to us. So is his sister, his best mate, his best mate’s older brother and his teacher. We make songs for your mum, your dad and your nan.’
And with these words a nation falls in love with urban pop stars N-Dubz. The democratic rappers’ above manifesto – as emblazoned on their Facebook, MySpace and Bebo – speaks volumes on the infiltration of UK urban music into the mainstream. Downloads and ringtones rule the charts; the web has trashed barriers between fan and artist; commercial demand for accessible pop with a credible legacy is rampant.
Little wonder then that London’s N-Dubz – a lovably ‘edgy’ R&B trio – are up for several gongs at the public-voted 14th MOBO (Music of Black Origin) Awards, which take place on 30 September in Glasgow.
N-Dubz, of course, are not alone in plotting urban music’s galactic trajectory: hip-hop dissident Dizzee Rascal, grime insurgent Tinchy Stryder and renegade teenage emcee Chipmunk have all absconded from the underground to become three of Britain’s biggest-selling acts in 2009. And they’re going head-to-head with US megastars in a ‘Brit Pack’ loaded MOBO roster. Other familiar homegrown nominees include reality vanquishers Alexandra Burke and JLS, Eurovision aspirant Jade Ewen, and Strictly Come Dancing’s Alesha Dixon (though curiously, there’s nary a mention of Mercury-winner Speech Debelle).
While rightly spotlighting UK talent as domestic hip-hop hijacks the pop market, the awards can also claim a convincing international standing. MOBO is Europe’s leading black music brand, and its annual aural carousal is one the most televised multicultural music awards shows in the world. It reaches millions of viewers across five continents, and in addition to nominations for bling-encrusted universal big-hitters like Kanye West, Jay-Z and Beyonce, the MOBOs also pay critical homage to soul, reggae, jazz, gospel and African music. Prospective 2009 victors include afro-beat torchbearer Femi Kuti, jazz trailblazer Herbie Hancock and Senegalese troubadour Baaba Maal.
Maal believes the MOBOs perform a vital role in raising global social and political awareness. ‘All over the world, you need people to recognise your work, so it’s great for an organisation like MOBO just to say you’re doing good,’ he smiles. ‘And of course, after these events, the media talk about the musicians, and where they come from. And so they make people think about the ones who’re living there, and their problems.’
Rising Scots soul star Emile Sandé co-wrote and sang on Chipmunk’s pop-ska mega-hit ‘Diamond Rings’ and, as such, is up for Best Song at this year’s awards. She’s also currently writing for Alesha Dixon and Cheryl Cole, and is set to re-accost the charts alongside grime ringleader Wiley. Sandé believes the MOBOs offer UK urban artists a crucial mainstream media platform. ‘The MOBOs are up on who’s saying what needs to be said,’ she explains. ‘They acknowledge more credible artists who might not get on the radio because of what they’re saying - but they can still get awards, can still get recognition that way.’
The MOBOs have come under fire for being racially divisive and needlessly niche. Both Sandé and Maal refute this, however. ‘I just don’t think that’s the case’, counters Sandé. ‘If you look at things like the Brits, there’s one single category that covers R&B, hip-hop, everything - and there’s much more going on than that. The MOBOs are perfect for opening it up, not cramming it in,’ she insists. Maal agrees. ‘It’s great that they celebrate African music [not just generic World Music]. And everyone in the African nominations is a family, you know? We’re not competing - we’re completing,’ he laughs.
This collective sense of revelry and cultural heritage impels the MOBOs. Maal - who performed at last year’s Celtic Connections and recently worked with Franz Ferdinand - salutes the awards’ collusive spirit. ‘It’s great for getting musicians from all over the world together,’ he enthuses, ‘to celebrate the connection of musicians everywhere’.
This year’s ceremony at the SECC highlights urban music’s countrywide currency. Sandé was raised in Aberdeen and is based in Glasgow: she reckons the MOBOs’ geographical shift out of London is timely. ‘There’s talent all over the UK,’ she says. ‘I remember watching the awards when I was younger - seeing people from your own country giving you the inspiration to go for it. The MOBOs were the first to say: Britain has this music; it’s not just the States.
‘I think it’s great that they’re coming to Glasgow,’ she concludes. ‘It shakes things up. And I think even people who don’t usually listen to this sort of music will be interested. It makes it more accessible. It opens it up to everyone.’
Like your mum. And your dad. And your nan.
MOBO Awards, Wed 30 Sep, SECC, Finnieston Quay, Glasgow. Tickets are available from www.ticketsoup.com, priced £29, £39 or £49. VIP ticket requests can be made by completing the form at www.mobo.com/tickets
COUNTDOWN TO THE MOBOS
A Brief History
Founded by Kanya King MBE, the Music of Black Origin awards have promoted grassroots and global black music culture since 1996. They’ve paid widespread tribute to figureheads such as Brazilian dignitary Bebel Gilberto, reggae legend Jimmy Cliff and jazz iconoclast Courtney Pine. They’ve championed US VIPs like Lauryn Hill, Kanye West, Rihanna, Beyonce and Jay-Z. And they’ve introduced many of UK pop’s household names: previous MOBO ‘Best Newcomer’ winners include Estelle, Chipmunk and N-Dubz. (And thank you but no, we don’t wish to recall Mick Hucknall’s Outstanding Achievement laurel...)
The majority of this year’s awards are decided by public vote (now closed). Hence expect hysterical plaudits for X-Factor bicep squadron JLS. Chipmunk, N-Dubz, Dizzee and Tinchy are auspicious alternative bets. Put your money on Emile Sandé for 2010 while you’re at it: she’s likely to sweep the boards at next year’s awards.
Global Pop Royalty
Battling it out in the Best International category are Jay-Z, Beyonce, Eminem, Kanye, Lady Gaga and Mariah amongst others. We’re rooting for R&B diva and Timbaland protégé, Keri Hilson.
World Music Luminaries
Sean Paul regularly bags the Best Reggae trophy, so here’s hoping it goes to roots redeemer Tarrus Riley for his positive, humanitarian vibes. Femi Kuti’s a cool contender for Best African artist - given pop and alternative music’s current love affair with afro-beat - but Amadou & Mariam and Baaba Maal are close runners. Herbie Hancock, in the meantime, is long overdue the Best Jazz decoration.
What Can We Expect On The Night?
Speculation is rife that this year’s musical elite will touch down in Finnieston via helicopter, submarine, air-balloon, hovercraft, unicorn-drawn cavalcade and even the exquisite Hampden Cab. Previous lavish galas have welcomed Tina Turner, Lauryn Hill, Dionne Warwick, Jay-Z and no less a god than Lionel Richie. The good folk at the MOBOs assure us that this year’s dazzling hoopla will follow suit. Jermaine Jackson and JLS are already confirmed, alongside lively on-stage alliances from N-Dubz with Tinchy Stryder, and Chipmunk with Emeli Sandé – climaxing of course, we sincerely hope, in a gilded full-cast finale of Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror’.