Is MOBO its own worst enemy?

The recent Music of Black Origin (MOBO) award ceremony was held in order to celebrate black input in the global music scene. Great idea; it can't be emphasized enough. However, one award category was conspicuous by its absence: the Rock category.

Rock and roll was what happened when the blues got mixed with white American folk music. Rock music is black music, both in terms of its origin and its imagery. Charles Shaar Murray once described the antics of the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and the Animals as "a 'come as a black man' fancy-dress party'; Elvis' music, clothes and dance moves were borrowed from contemporary black musicians like Wynonie Harris. Nutmeg pioneers such as Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton and Sly Stone are all now hailed as legends for their disregard of genre and industry straitjackets, but at the time they were recording they were pretty much ignored by their peers.

White musicians have always enjoyed the privilege of making diverse and genre-bending music that nevertheless is still classified as "rock". White recording artists like Vanilla Ice or House of Pain are strongly supported by the music industry when they make "black" music. Why isn't it the same when it's the other way around? To my mind, Tricky, Prince, Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Ben Harpur and Roachford are all rock musicians, along with the black rock bands from outside the mainstream, such as 24-7 SPYZ or Fishbone. Black input into genres labelled as "white music" cannot and should not be underestimated. Where would the world punk and hardcore scene be if Bad Brains had never existed? If the likes of Rollins, Fugazi and the Beastie Boys all acknowledge their debt and pay their respects, why can't the music industry?

Okay, okay: maybe I'm being naive. You can't have a rock category at the Music of Black Origin Awards simply because of industry racism. But how about a category that recognises the hard work of black artists within these so-called "white" categories, but which isn't labelled in such a way as to provoke hostility? A "Progressive" category, or an "Alternative" category. That way the Prodigy could be shortlisted alongside Tricky, Fishbone or Goldie. Imaginative and creative people would get the recognition that they deserve, and at the same time the message that MOBO wanted to put forward would be put forward in a way that could actually achieve the award's worthwhile aims.

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Last updated 30/7/98