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David Lister: Of all these unnecessary award shows, the Mobos are the worst

The Week in Arts
  • @davidlister1

The arts world may be short of money but it is never short of awards ceremonies.

Every week they come – music, film, theatre, literature. More prizes than you can name, each new one diluting the worth of its predecessors. But among all the scores and scores of arts prizes, has there ever been one quite so unnecessary and quite so patronising as the Mobos?

This week it was that time of year again, the time of year when the pompously, yet meaninglessly, titled Music of Black Origin awards were handed out to rock and pop stars, several of whom have an unfathomable relationship to black origin. I'm not sure what Mobo winner Adele's black origin is, for example, or her fellow winner Jessie J. Most "analysts" would agree that both sing conventional, if high-quality, pop.

Their music has some roots in black music, because all pop has some roots in black music, from the Rolling Stones in the 1960s to Joss Stone now. I choose the last named advisedly because, believe it or not, Ms Stone, who grew up on the scary streets of Paignton, Devon, is a past winner of this prestigious urban music award. Can it really be that Jessie J, Adele and Joss Stone before them are chosen simply because they have soulful voices? Or could it possibly be that hugely popular stars like Jessie J and Adele guarantee publicity for an awards ceremony that might otherwise be floundering?

It's no surprise that a recent editorial in The Voice newspaper asked whether the Mobos were "doing a disservice to black artists" by using white singers to promote the awards.

I've wondered before how this questionable award manages to continue. It has lost all its original rationale, when it honoured black musicians, presumably realising after a few years that this looked curiously patronising. It moved rapidly to urban music, then on to this music of black origin, leaving it without a vestige of logic.

But there is something much worse than a breach of pedantry and linguistic lack of logic. It is the message these awards send out, a message that has a whiff of discrimination. The likes of young stars such as Tinchy Stryder and Tinie Tempah, who were also winners this week, do not need specially crafted awards, nor do they need their music to be labelled black. They already win major awards; their music is universally popular. Why the need to limit it with a racial definition?

The Mobos don't just patronise black artists, but they also create music ghettos. And music doesn't need that. Roll on the time when Music of Black Origin awards sound as ridiculous as Music of White Origin awards, and as politically divisive a concept. For there is one outstanding virtue that characterises contemporary music, more actually than any other art form. It is colour blind.

Lloyd Webber takes a swipe

The biggest 25th anniversary of the moment is, of course, The Independent's. But we'll allow a mention, too, for the West End musical The Phantom of the Opera, which has also knocked up a quarter of a century. To celebrate this, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron Mackintosh staged a brilliant gala performance at the Royal Albert Hall last Sunday, with a splendid party at the Natural History Museum afterwards. It was a memorable evening.

It's also the case that you can rely on Andrew to eschew platitudes and say what he really thinks. And sure enough in his programme notes he was still expressing bitterness at the way his then wife, and star of the show, Sarah Brightman, was treated in 1986. "Everyone was ready to snipe and say she only got the role of Christine because she was my wife," he wrote. He also didn't miss the opportunity to take a swipe at today's bloggers (who helped do for his latest show, Love Never Dies). They are "malicious", he wrote. Why can't all programme notes be like this? It's drama even before the show has begun.

What's wrong with a classical fanfare?

A burst of rock music served as the climax to several of the major speeches at the party conferences. I can't recall exactly when this habit started, but it's a fairly safe bet that Tony Blair was there or thereabouts. It's diverting to imagine what it would have been like if the trend had begun some years earlier. Jim Callaghan could have left the stage to the accompaniment of the Sex Pistols, Harold Macmillan to "Blue Suede Shoes".

I suspect the musical climax is here to stay at party conferences. But why always rock? Can't Cameron, Miliband or Clegg be bold enough next year to put on some classical music to go with the standing ovation? Would that be too uncool? Have their spin doctors advised that it would alienate key parts of the electorate? There's no shortage of rousing music. The last moments of Ravel's Bolero, or Wagner's The Ride of the Valkyries, perhaps. Fat chance, I suspect. But what exactly are they afraid of?