The MOBOs 2024 Reminded Us Why It’s An Award Show With Purpose

Photo: Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Images/MOBO.
One thing about the MOBO awards, it’s a ceremony that gives out flowers to Black British talent while they’re still here — whether that’s before, during or after the recipient’s peak mainstream fame. Hosted by former Love Island star Indiyah Polack and comedian Babatúndé Aléshé at the Utilita Sheffield Arena, the ceremony returned for its 26th year on Wednesday to a glowing reception. Amongst honouring big winners like Little Simz, Stormzy, Raye and Central Cee, the show turned out to be a joyous, sincere, and surprisingly nostalgic celebration of the best of Black music, in all its iterations.
The Sugababes (Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena, Siobhan Donaghy — the original and best line-up) were honoured on the night with the MOBO Impact Award in recognition of their enduring legacy and twenty years of perpetual bops. “For us, it’s about longevity,” Buchanan told Unbothered after receiving the award. “This is the stuff of dreams to be able to have your music be so well received all these years later.” 
Nineties trailblazers Soul II Soul received the MOBO Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of their impact on the British music scene, and DJ Spoony, 'the godfather of UK garage music', celebrated 30 years of the genre with a performance that brought the house down. 
For many Black Brits and lovers of the culture watching, it’s the one night of the year when we get to celebrate us on a huge mainstage, in a way that feels unapologetically Black. This year in particular, as award ceremonies are being rightly criticised for taking their sweet, sweet time to acknowledge the plethora of bright Black talent, I was reminded just how much this award show matters. 

“I have seen a British landscape that went from questioning the very existence of the MOBOs, even being a little hostile to its existence, to selling out the Sheffield Arena here tonight.”

Beverley knight
It was the standout, no-holds-barred performance by critically acclaimed UK rapper Ghetts that acted as a valuable reminder of this show’s cultural significance. “I was talking to a pal of mine, and he asked me why they are helping Ukraine and not Palestine. And I replied brown skin,” rapped Ghetts during his mainstage performance. “Something like this would probably get shadowbanned,” he continued in the performance that included a scathing indictment of the UK government as the words ‘FREE’ glowed behind him. The stage was illuminated with the flags of Palestine, Yemen, Libya, Congo, Sudan and more. I got chills. 
Given Hollywood award ceremonies and their honorees struggled to find their political voice this year, it was heartening that, through Ghetts, the MOBOs’ voice was clear and unflinching. 
“Because I don’t give a fuck,” he said to Unbothered after his performance, his frank response to the question of why he could do what seemingly many artists have not been able to do (for fear of backlash or otherwise) so far. “Everyone is ‘real’ until it’s time to be real.” During the ceremony, Ghetts was awarded the Pioneer Award of the evening for his twenty-year career, ahead of releasing a new album, On Purpose, With Purpose and a forthcoming headline tour. The 39-year-old East London rapper is no stranger to saying what needs to be said, regardless of who may be listening. “I just feel like the time we’re in, we’re just watching the world burn. And as an artist seeing that, I would do my art a disservice by ignoring it. I feel like the MOBO awards understand the struggle.” 
The MOBOs were founded by Kanya King MBE as a fledgling ceremony to honour the music of Black origin in 1996. It has met its fair share of naysayers over decades. From being routinely asked by British cynics why we need a ‘music of Black origin’ ceremony, to being accused of being whitewashed when acknowledging white artists within its categories. Still, the awards ceremony is enduring, allowing underground and burgeoning British acts to leave their mark on a mainstream audience. For many of the UK’s most recognisable acts such as Stormzy (who was the first artist to win the MOBO's newly introduced 'Best Grime Act' award in 2014) and Craig David, the MOBOs were the first ceremony to acknowledge them with a physical accolade. 
“I’m one of the artists that was celebrated amongst my own community when I first started,” legendary singer-songwriter Beverley Knight told Unbothered on the MOBOs red carpet. “Not just Black communities, urban music communities, clubs etc. That was 30 years ago. I didn’t have a mainstream platform. When the MOBOs came along, even though it was a fledgling ceremony, because of the work that its founder Kanya King put into it, it enabled me to have my voice heard.”
“I have seen a British landscape that went from questioning the very existence of the MOBOs, even being a little hostile to its existence, to selling out the Sheffield Arena here tonight,” Knight continued. “That is such a win.” 
From Hollywood to London, award shows are often met with a significant degree of cynicism and backlash — it’s the expected discourse every year. Within the first month of 2024, we’ve already navigated plenty of controversies (is it really an award season without snub accusations?) and overall disillusionment for the awards process in general. In a time where even Beyoncé doesn’t feel adequately validated by the recording academy, critics have been routinely asking whether award shows still matter. However, for the MOBOs Awards, it seems the purpose is as clear as it has always been: to continually put homegrown talent on the map and foster a space where it can flourish without limits.

More from Pop Culture

R29 Original Series