Meet Kanya King

CEO & Founder
The MOBO Organisation

Business icon, MBE and mentor, Kanya King spearheaded the first MOBO Awards in 1996. Kanya took a gamble and remortgaged her home to finance her groundbreaking idea for a UK awards show to recognise and celebrate music of Black origin.

Fifteen years on, the MOBO Organisation is the pre-eminent urban music event on the European music calendar, televised annually to a worldwide audience of 250 million viewers.

This year’s MOBO Awards take place in Liverpool on October 20. In conjunction, the MOBO Organisation will host two days of music industry master classes and workshops, bringing together industry executives and local young people to share insights on building a career in the industry, as performers, producers and business leaders.

In addition, the inaugural MOBO Tour kicks off this October in collaboration with PRS Foundation. Covering six cities, music fans will have the opportunity to savour the UK’s best underground talent.

Why did you decide to start the MOBO Organisation?
The concept was born over a kitchen table in London way back in 1996. I wanted to create an inclusive music awards show that would highlight and celebrate a genre of music that wasn’t getting the exposure it deserved.

Back in the Nineties there was a real musical divide. While music like RnB and Hip Hop was enjoyed by large groups of fans in clubs and at concerts across the UK, this type of music wasn’t getting radio airplay and wasn’t shifting the units it would go on to achieve 10 years later.

As a result, music award shows completely ignored the genre. It was seen as underground or too ‘niche’. Our aim back then was to elevate the music. We knew that if the masses could get to hear this great music then radio would pick up on it and record sales would increase.

MOBO Organisation has played an instrumental role in elevating Black music over the past 15 years. When you started out did your vision for MOBO align with what the company has achieved to date?
What MOBO has achieved has gone beyond my expectations. MOBO has certainly helped urban music make the transition from niche music to mainstream and was the first televised event of its kind to bring urban music to the masses.

It still remains the largest, most highly publicised urban music event on the European music calendar. It is great to know that the success of the awards has set the stage for the likes of many other urban music channels.

What are you working on at the moment? Can you describe your typical working day?
The MOBO Awards show takes place October 20th, so of course this is my main focus right now. A typical working day kicks off with me ploughing through my many emails, delegating appropriately, creating a list of priorities and spending the rest of the day putting a line through each task.

Of course I have several meetings to attend and PR commitments. Each day is never complete without the various curveballs that are thrown in my direction, but I love what I do and embrace every aspect of it. I often work late and therefore end up going to evening events, such as charity balls and launch parties straight from the office.

In 2006 you introduced the BeMOBO Award to honour the work of individuals and organisations in the community. What was the driving force for the initiative?
It seemed like a natural part of our evolution. The awards were born out of a desire to highlight and celebrate something deserving, to shine the spotlight on a cause outside of music and honour that cause was always going to happen – it’s our ethos.

You have been awarded an MBE and honorary degrees in recognition of your achievements in the music industry. Since the launch of MOBO, what has been your proudest moment to date?
I can honestly say that I have been lucky enough to have had numerous proud MOBO moments, but one that stands out for me both professionally and personally has to be my honorary degree from Goldsmiths.

At the time I was a working, single mother and due to the fact that I was simply spreading myself too thinly I was politely asked to leave. So to be recognised, several years later, for my achievements by Goldsmiths was truly an honour.

You took a risk and remortgaged your home to fund the first MOBO Awards. What advice would you give to someone who has a great vision for their business but is finding it hard to finance?
If you truly believe in your venture, trust your instinct and be relentless.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
Get the best team. You are only as good as the people you rely on.

You are part of Marie Claire’s Inspire and Mentor programme, in association with the Prince’s Trust, offering readers the chance to be mentored by 17 of the most influential women in Britain. Have you been mentored?
I’ve never been mentored myself and this is something I have always wanted so it is nice to be able to mentor other people.

What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
My parents. My father passed away when I was just 13, his words of advice continue to inspire and motivate me today… “Be the best you can be”.

My mother was my greatest role model. Whenever things get difficult for me I reflect on the tough journey she had and everything is put into perspective.

What have been the highlights of running your own business?
I’m a great believer in giving my all. Even as an employee I always gave more than was expected of me. Now that I run my own business, I am very passionate about what I do. With that passion comes a drive I’m not sure I’d have if I weren’t running my own business.

There have been many highlights over the years, but the biggest highlight for me has to be putting on the very first show back in 1996. With all the naysayers and doubt, we managed to put on a hugely successful show in just six weeks!

What is the hardest part of running your own business?
I always struggle with this question… I guess the hardest part is switching off and finding a cut off point. I have to rely on my partner to tell me to take time out; otherwise I think I’d just keep going.

What are your future goals for The MOBO Organisation?
To expand the brand. We are exploring several opportunities, but all I can say at this moment is watch this space!

MOBO Awards, in association with Lebara Mobile, celebrates its 15th anniversary at Liverpool Echo Arena on October 20, 2010. Visit www.mobo.com for details on the MOBO Tour.

Kanya’s personal website, www.kanyaking.com, launches at the end of September.

Kanya King was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.

The Twenty Ten Club connects, inspires and supports Black female business owners.

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