For those starting out in the music business, there are few more inspirational personal stories than that of MOBO Awards founder Kanya King MBE, who recently recounted her tale of achievement from adversity at Middlesex University’s Dare to Dream event.
The youngest girl of nine children, Kanya – which appropriately means ‘the youngest one’ – grew up in a cramped council flat in Kilburn, north-west London, at a time when the road to success for black women was littered with barriers.
“I did everything you shouldn’t do starting out.”
When her Irish mother and Ghanaian father came to the UK racism was a very prominent issue and there were financial difficulties too: Kanya described her childhood days as filled with “uncertainty” over whether the family could afford to keep a roof over their heads.
A foray into property management was followed by gig promotion and King could soon “see the difference I was making to artists lives”. The seeds of the MOBO Awards had been sown despite, as she admitted, having no experience of music and doing “everything you shouldn’t do starting out”.
This lack of experience led to her underestimating the “resistance” she would face from people who said there was no audience for the MOBOs and that the idea would “never work”.
A chance meeting with the managing director of London Weekend Television led to an offer from Carlton TV in 1996 to air the first ever event, but the bad news was that she had just six weeks to put on this inaugural show. With an “overwhelming desire to succeed”, King remortgaged her house “against her mother’s better judgment” in order to raise the finances.
And succeed she did. Lionel Richie accepted the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award at the show and Jazzy B received his first UK award after 10 years in the industry. “He’d been getting so much acclaim from around the world but hadn’t been recognised here [in the UK]. I knew I was on the right track after that,” King said.
Tony Blair was another prominent guest. “I don’t often hear ‘no’ – I just hear ‘not now’”, she recalled with a cheeky smile of being told he was unable to attend. “There’s a fine line between being a pain and being persuasive.”
When the future prime minister did make a last-minute appearance King’s mother tried to get her a job working for him. “Only when I got royal recognition [an MBE in 1999] did she accept I was doing okay for myself!”
“Success in life is about the relentless pursuit of your goals.”
Two decades and 1,000 nominees later, the MOBOs, which has given many acts their first TV appearances, is still going strong. “It’s about motivating people to be the best they can be,” King explained. “Each person should have the opportunity to discover their full potential. We want everyone to think big and be inspired.”
With the likes of gold-medal-winning female boxer Nicola Adams receiving MOBO gongs in recent years, King said “it’s fantastic to be able to create a platform for people to inspire others”.
“Success in life is about the relentless pursuit of your goals. There are no shortcuts. Listen and learn from others who have been there before you – I’m a great believer in that.
80 per cent of success is down to attitude and the harder you work the luckier you get.”
It was a truly inspiring talk from a pioneering figure in music.