Mobo founder calls on Culture Secretary to help combat racism in music industry

Mobo boss Kanya King has written an open letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, calling on him to “help combat the worst pandemic we are facing which is racism”.

In the letter, she criticises the music industry for its record on supporting up-and-coming black artists and promoting black executives to positions of influence.

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.

Oliver Dowden file photo
Oliver Dowden (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

She wrote: “The music industry, it is fair to say, could and should have dealt better with black artists, black run companies and taken on more black executives.

“In many cases the black businesses, institutions and communities that give rise to black expression and talented individuals have not been able to benefit or partake in the financial rewards that have driven billions to the UK and global economies and helped create entire industries.”

She added that “the structural and racial inequalities that shape the daily experiences of people from Black Minority backgrounds including the role that they play in the music industry” could no longer be “swept under a red carpet”.

MOBO announcement – Scotland
Kanya King with Alesha Dixon at the Mobo Awards (Andrew Milligan/PA)

King also spoke about her family’s experience of racism.

She wrote: “I have never told this story before, but I have a younger brother who, after getting racially attacked at a football match, has suffered from ongoing health issues and barely leaves his house.

“It is traumatic watching so many people you care about having hopes and dreams being wasted.

“One of my sisters who suffered serious discrimination, often being the only person of colour in a white environment, became unhappy in her own skin so used to wear lighter foundation.

“She consequently became an alcoholic and died from a broken neck. All she wanted was to be accepted.

It was a difficult letter to write but sometimes you have to find the courage to openly speak your truth. @MOBOAwards

For my full open letter, please click here 👉🏾

— Kanya King CBE (@KanyaKing) June 17, 2020

“Growing up there weren’t many positive images of black people, mainly just disparaging stereotypes.

“This is why it has always been very important to me to have celebrations of black music and culture bringing together the biggest artists, entertainers and performers around.”

King said the music industry needs a “celebratory event” to give voice to black artists and music industry workers.

She announced plans for a national event, called United We Stand, to “to empower organisations in their fight for equal opportunities”.

King also set out a three-point agenda, including a pledge to work with movements such as Black Lives Matter to “unify” supporters’ voices.

She called on names from the worlds of comedy, music, film, television and sport to follow in the footsteps of acts such as Stormzy – who pledged £10 million over the next 10 years – and publicly support black causes.

Her letter comes after protests in the US, the UK and further afield following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minnesota.

Mr Floyd’s death also prompted public figures and organisations from the worlds of arts and entertainment to take part in the Black Out Tuesday initiative, posting a black square to highlight racial inequalities.

Mr Dowden has been approached for comment.

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