David Lister: The Week in Arts

Sorry to say the Mobos have had their day
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Joss Stone came close to winning a Mobo award this week. The young jazz singer from Devon has been a winner before at the Music of Black Origin Awards. And if that seems odd, as the awards tend to be associated with rappers and hip-hop artists like 50 Cent and Kanye West, then perhaps we shouldn't pre-judge. Who knows what it's really like growing up on the mean streets of Paignton?

I admit that I don't fully understand the Mobos. They started off more than a decade ago, and by accident or design all the winners in that first year were black artists. But the awards quickly expanded to include all practitioners of music of black origin. So I expect Mobo lifetime achievement awards next year for Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Mick Jagger. Both have in their time acknowledged their indebtedness to the blues, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Tamla Motown.

In fact, one could make a case that anyone involved in rock 'n' roll is involved in music of black origin. If Joss Stone and her fans really need a clunky reminder that many of the first practitioners of jazz were black, then let's give the same reminder next year to Arctic Monkeys, Kylie and anyone who includes even a smattering of rock 'n' roll in their repertoire.

It's hard to work out whether these awards are an exercise in progressiveness, political correctness or muddled thinking. Hip-hop, of course, is such a dominant genre that it certainly merits an award ceremony of its own. Jazz already has its own award ceremonies. But what point exactly is being made by bringing these genres and reggae and R&B together? Is it really to spell out that many of the pioneers of these art forms were black? Are there really music fans who don't know that? And what does such a contrived grouping mean? Joss Stone has no real connection to 50 Cent. The fact that she is singing in a style that decades ago was predominantly the province of black artists does not make the connection any tighter.

I can see why Kanya King, the woman who founded and still runs the Mobos, moved away from an awards ceremony exclusively for black musicians. It was an appalling ghettoisation, at odds with everything music champions, and at odds too with the reality of the massive success in contemporary music of black musicians, who need no such token award ceremonies.

But the move from awards just for black musicians to awards for music of black origin, was only marginally less patronising. If there is one area of life where colour of skin is thankfully not an issue, it is music.

Ah, say some Mobo defenders in blogs I have been reading this week, the infrastructure of black music is still not sufficiently well financed, supported and promoted in Britain. These awards give it a platform. But how then does one justify giving an award to Amy Winehouse, and nominating Joss Stone? They are in no way a part of the black music infrastructure in Britain.

The Mobos are either there to help the infrastructure of black music, in which case they have become hopelessly muddled in the quest for glamour, sponsorship and publicity, or they are fighting the cause of recognition for unsung heroes of black music, which has not been a necessary cause since the early Sixties. Then, certainly, much black music was purloined by white pop stars.

In 2007 these awards have a whiff of condescension. The Mobos have muddled through for 10 years now. Perhaps it's time to call it a day.

Don't believe the hype

I noted last week that despite the massive fuss over the Terracotta Army exhibition at the British Museum, the warriors had been at Selfridges in 1981, and there was no such fuss. It's true that at that show some of the warriors were replicas.

But quite a few readers have written to me, and one letter was published in the paper this week, pointing out that there was also a Terracotta Army exhibition in 1987 in London, this time at the Royal Horticultural Society's hall in Victoria. And this time it was definitely not replicas, it was the real thing. One reader, Jill Payne, tells me she recalls queuing in the snow to see the show. So once again I have to ask: where were the critics, pundits, TV cameras and a prime minister to open the exhibition?

All of those going into raptures at the supposedly once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Terracotta Army in Bloomsbury could have put on their warm coats and caught them in Victoria 20 years ago.

* Studio theatres are intimate, and make the audience part of the action. This can have its disadvantages, as I discovered on Tuesday at the first night of The Ugly One at The Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs. I arrived six minutes late, and was told that "they are holding it for you".

I felt guilty at the thought of the cast huddled backstage. But guilt turned to panic when I was ushered in and discovered that the cast were not backstage at all. They were in their places on the stage, waiting and observing my entrance.

I tried to blend in with the back row, as far away as I could, but there was no room, so I had to come back down to the front, next to the staring, glaring faces on stage again.

And we stared each other out for a full minute before a seat could be found. I now know what living a bad dream is like.