Wednesday, September 30, 2009

MOBO time is here again!

The annual MOBO awards show will take place tonight in the rather interesting location of Glasgow, Scotland. In case you are scratching your head wondering what the MOBOs are, MOBO stands for Music of Black Origin (MOBO) and according to the good people over at Wikipedia:

Of course the term 'black music' is completely ambiguous to me. In fact,
discussions of (so-called) black music remind me of an amusing meal-time conversation that took place in my first year of undergraduate in the US. We were all having a lively music discussion at dinner one evening when a 4th year student at the table (whom we will call 'Devika' for this story) declared:

"No offence Abena, but I really don't like black music!"

Me (to myself): That is such a shame! I will be sure to let everyone know at the next meeting of the Black People High Command since I'm clearly representing all black people on the planet at this precise moment in time!

: "Actually, coming to think of it, I like Prince and Michael Jackson so I do actually like some black music"

Me (to myself): Whew! What a relief, almost thought we lost one there.

So what is 'black music' anyway? Is it music performed by black musicians as Devika seemed to think? This raises some fascinating questions. For example, the British Indie Rock band Bloc Party is fronted by a black man Kele Okereke so does that make their musical genre 'black music'? Okay, so maybe Kele Okereke alone is not sufficient to turn the whole band black. So let's say Kele formed a new band made up exclusively of say 5 British guys of Nigerians descent playing only Indie Rock music do they then qualify as a 'black music' band?
Besides, isn't rock-n-roll music of black origin anyway? Didn't Elvis Presley basically mimic some of the black contemporary artistes of the time? These are some of the reasons the term 'black music' is still foggy in my mind.

Anyway, back to the MOBOs. A couple of years ago, a new category was added to the awards which was Best African Act. This was meant to showcase and honour some of Africa's finest artistes. In 2007, Ghana's very own (Batman) Samini was the proud recipient of this award. I was very excited at the time since I used to have a massive crush on Samini dating back to his performances at La Pleasure Beach with KK Fosu and Kokovelli. Ahhh good times...

Above: Batman Samini at the 2007 MOBOs

According to the MOBO website, the 2009 nominees for Best African Act (shortlisted by public vote....somewhere) are:
  • Eidee (Nigerian artiste heard him on the BBC this morning- pretty good stuff)
  • Nneka (Half German - Half Nigerian soul singer)
  • Salif Kelta (I think the MOBO people meant Salif Keita, one of the undisputed Kings of contemporary Afro-pop music)
I'm sure some Ghanaians are up in arms that no Ghanaian artistes made it on to the nominee list. But are we really that surprised? Are there any Ghanaian music acts of the moment who can really stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Salif Keita or Nneka?

In a convoluted way however, Ghana is well-represented at the 2009 MOBO through some of the hottest UK hip-hop acts such as Dizzee Rascal (who is apparently half-Ghanaian) and the newest grime sensation you may never have heard of Tinchy Stryder (real name Kwasi Danquah). Other UK grime/hip-hop acts Lethal Bizzle (real name Maxwell Ansah) and Sway (real name Derrick Safo ) are also past MOBO winners.

So now I'm very curious now, can anyone think of a Ghanaian artiste who has been overlooked for a MOBO nomination this year?


Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

nope! can't think of any. Besides, do we actually participate in the voting? or it is not public voting?. Okay, presently with all the noise around, I don't think there is a Ghanaian who matches the likes of Salif Keita...besides I also think this man shouldn't have been added to the group because he is already a maestro. Which of the others can be compared with Salif? None. I have listened to Nneka, she is very good but how has she churned out enough albums like Salif? Well don't know. Okay so there is not Ghanaian at the would have been Atongo Simba of No Beer in Heaven fame but I think this is an old release.

Abena said...

Hey Nana F-A: Not sure who participates in the voting because I tried to register to vote last year and MOBO was not really that helpful about when I could vote for these upcoming awards. True our artistes pale in comparison to Salif Keita. Upon greater reflection, I really think Samini's "Where my baby deh" is pretty darn good. Have also been impressed by this new Sonni Balli song "When you are gone". I find the video with traditional dancers fascinating. Gosh I sound like a tourist!

Nana Yaw Asiedu said...

Interesting read. Would ordinarily have had a lot to say about such a well-researched, well-written piece, but I only want to say I am not too sure that I do not agree with "Devika". Why cannot there be Black Music? I'm really wondering.

Sankofa said...

I voted this year on their website so it might only be available for those who live in the UK. However, I think the MOBOs lost a lot of cred recently. The nominees are usually dominated by obvious American artists who rarely show up to the ceremony, not enough focus is given to UK artists, and they just seem generally uninspired imho. I'm glad somebody else has noticed that Ghanaians have the UK music scene on LOCK. Tinchy is huuuuge right now. Donae'o is also half Ghanaian.

In regards to the whole "black music" debate, I don't really tend to think of music in terms of race or colour but in genres. The lead singer of TV on the Radio is also black but that doesn't make it "black music". I know certain genres are associated with certain races but I feel that there is a lot more blurring of lines in this day and age.

(On a side note: my friend Kwame, when he first started growing locs, used to get random people coming up to him for autographs because they thought he was Kele from Bloc Party. It even got him some free drinks and club entries!)

Abena said...

@Nana Yaw: Hehehhe Thanks.. not sure about well-researched though ;) I think I just resented "Devika's" assumption that because someone is black the musical genre they perform is automatically black. Prince's style to me is more rock . As Sankofa puts it "certain genres are associated with certain races". To some extent Black people (to me) seem more stuck with these labels while there is more fluidity for their white counterparts such as Eminem, Justin Timberlake etc. However as Sankofa rightfully said these lines are blurrying. In fact, I think I should just shut-up now since I'm basically plagiarising from Sankofa (but I did reference her though!)

@Sankofa:Thanks for the insights! I had heard that the American artistes basically never show up. Pity never Dizzee or Tinchy won anything. Had never heard of Donae'o but now I will have to check him out. That is so funny about your friend Kwame. I hope he milked that one for all it was worth!