Boycott call as white acts win music prizes

Louise Jury Arts Correspondent
Friday 26 September 2003 00:00
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The white appropriation of black music led to Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera walking away with top honours at Britain's premier urban music awards last night.

Another white contender, the Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood, was named best DJ for the second time in three years at the ceremony for the 2003 Music of Black Origin Awards - the Mobos - at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Although Mick Hucknall, the Simply Red singer, once won the outstanding achievement award and Jamiroquai has taken best album honours, Timberlake's triumph as best R&B act is probably the most important white win in a key category in the Mobo awards' history. Aguilera won the award for best video.

These successes are likely to stoke further controversy among some parts of the black community, which feels that black talent is losing out to white artists.

Even at the nomination stage, Black Britain, Europe's largest ethnic minority website, was a flurry of indignation with calls to boycott the awards.

"Many of you I'm sure are as furious as me at the fact that Justin Timberlake has been nominated for best R&B act," was one comment.

But a spokeswoman for the awards said that colour was not the point. "Mobo's ethos is to celebrate and highlight music of black origin whether made by black artists, or Asian or white," she said. "This year is fantastic for us because black music, urban music, is riding the charts right across the globe."

The awards were widely tipped to be a walkover for female artists after many years when the macho aggression of the streets had pervaded the music of winners such as So Solid Crew. The violence marred the occasion last year when unofficial post-ceremony parties prompted allegations of rape and riot and police were called. But the much-trumpeted female invasion evaporated when it came to the final public vote and America's troubled hip-hop star 50 Cent was the big winner of the night.

His "In Da Club'' was named best single, Get Rich Or Die Tryin' won the Mastercard Best Album award and he beat Eminem to the best hip-hop artist award.

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Organisers were left waiting until the last minute to know whether he would attend. The star, real name Curtis Jackson, arrived in Britain this week but was held by immigration officials over alleged links with gang violence in the US.

Lisa Maffia beat the Mercury Prize-winner Dizzee Rascal to the best garage title. But big-name music artists including Beyonce Knowles and the home-grown female stars Terri Walker and Mis-Teeq went home empty-handed. Mis-Teeq went on stage to perform at the ceremony alongside Big Brovaz, the six south Londoners who picked up a best newcomer award and shared the UK Act of the Year title with Punjabi MC - the first joint award after a tie in the voting.

George Benson picked up a lifetime achievement award while the R&B veterans Kool and the Gang were given Mobo's outstanding achievement award.

Ibrahim Ferrer, singer with the now legendary Buena Vista Social Club from Cuba, won the best world music act from a shortlist including Santana, and the Oxford-educated young saxophone star Soweto Kinch beat the best-selling Norah Jones in the jazz category. The awards were founded in 1986 to recognise the enormous contribution that the black urban sound - ranging from R&B through UK garage to jazz and reggae - has made to the music industry.

They were co-hosted by the singer Blu Cantrell and the rap star L'il Kim, whose trashy sexy style won her the fashion icon award. The best producer award went to Neptunes, Wayne Wonder was best reggae act and Hutcheson Gayle best gospel newcomer. The club DJ honour was taken by Shortee Blitz, and J'Nay, a 22-year-old from west London, took the unsung award for unsigned artists. OutRage, the gay rights protest group which last year picketed the event to protest at the homophobic lyrics of some black artists, spurned this year's ceremony, putting its faith in the Metropolitan Police. The group has made an official submission about lyrics which it views as an incitement to violence or harassment of gay people. A police spokesman said that the force was considering the claims.

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