Shaper: Kanya King

Show aired on 18th October 2014

Transcript of the show

Elliot Moss
That was Respect from Aretha Franklin; a lovely way to start the programme here, it is Jazz Shapers of course on Jazz FM with me, Elliot Moss. The place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, soul and blues alongside their equivalents in the world of business; a business shaper. My business shaper today I am honoured to say is Kanya King, MBE. The founder and chief executive of the MOBO Organisation which of course is incredibly well-known for the awards running since 1997. You are going to be hearing lots from her very shortly. And in addition to hearing from her, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon De Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, soul and blues, including some of the nominees for this years’ MOBO Awards in the Best Jazz Acts category. Here’s one of them, it’s Jason Rebello on Jazz FM.

That was Jason Rebello and Lighten Up The Load featuring Xantone Black, a nominee for the MOBO awards coming up very shortly on ITV actually. Kanya King is my business shaper today, she is the founder and also the Chief Exec of MOBO, the MOBO Organisation which as I said is very famous for MOBO Awards but lots more also and we will talk about that very shortly. Kanya thank you so much for joining me.

Kanya King
Thank you for inviting me Elliot.

Elliot Moss
Now you are a rare species in a way. You are a very successful female entrepreneur. I have interviewed lots of them but there aren’t as many as everyone wants there to be. You started young, I believe, if I am right that you were selling bottles when you were a kid. Is this true before we move on to other things that you did? Amazing things?

Kanya King
Oh my gosh I am laughing about this. I mean you know I ended up doing that at about the age of eight or something like that. I grew up in North West London in Queens Park and when you come from a large family, I was the youngest girl of nine children so I couldn’t wait to kind of escape to go to my local park which was Queens Park and so I used to spend a lot of my time sort of collecting bottles which you could return to the local café and they gave you something like five pence and I soon realised that all I needed to do was – there was no investment of money, it was just my time and I could generate a nice income. So what better than spending you know your whole day in a fantastic park, tranquillity and yet you know, generating revenue?

Elliot Moss
But interestingly aged eight and I have an eight year old son. There are many many different types of eight year old. Some are pretty entrepreneurial, some are just not. What do you think, I mean obviously money, I would imagine money wasn’t flush. It depends you know, you will tell me more about that but beyond the money not being flush bit, what made you kind of have that, do you think, have that get up go even at that very young age?

Kanya King
I grew up in a very crowded Council flat so you know, many of us children siblings and I soon realised that I needed to kind of help contribute I guess to the household finances from an early age and so you know, and of course I also wanted to dress rather trendy for school.

Elliot Moss
Even at eight you were aware. It’s amazing.

Kanya King
Well my mother used to take me to a jumble sale, the local jumble sale and buy clothes for me and of course now they call it vintage clothing but at the time it was seen somewhat differently then and so I wanted to buy my own clothes and be you know go to school in all these kind of fashionable outfits so I had …

Elliot Moss
To find the money?

Kanya King
Yeah exactly I had to find the money.

Elliot Moss
And it sounds like that there were many other little businesses before the big business which came a fair amount of time later. That sense of responsibility you obviously felt it quite young to contribute to the family. You are from Ghanaian and Irish stock?

Kanya King
Yes.

Elliot Moss
Was that work ethic instilled in you from a very young age?

Kanya King
I think it definitely was because you know my parents came here to this country roughly at the age of eighteen, both of them and it was a time – they came here at a time when there was notices on windows that said no Irish, no Blacks, no Dogs so it was a very difficult time, discrimination was rife and you know, my parents kind of struggled and my mother very much felt isolated from her family because you know, her parents were in Ireland and when she met you know, a man of colour, she very much was of ostracised. It was very much you know, you’ve made your bed, you sleep on it. So it was a very isolating experience for her so she didn’t have the support of her family so, but she spent obviously spent a lot of time you know, trying to bring up her kids but also at the same time, trying to find a living and that was very difficult for her.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to hear much more from my business shaper, Kanya King, the founder and Chief Exec of the MOBO Organisation. Time for some more music; this is You Touch My Brain from Al Jarreau featuring Dr John.

That was You Touch My Brain from the brilliant Al Jarreau featuring Dr John. Kanya King is my business shaper today and she is as I said earlier, the founder and Chief Exec of the MOBO Organisation and the MOBO Awards celebrating fantastic music from all sorts of places now, has been going for almost twenty years and it is going to be back on the screens of British Television from next week. Kanya, you were talking about your childhood and how you know in a way with nine kids, a lot of stuff going on in the house, you had to pull your weight, you had to find a way of helping as you said, your mum and the situation at hand. I believe you also wanted to be, even at those young years, you wanted to be an actress. You had visions of doing all these things. You still, I think you left school at sixteen and you managed to fit in University for a bit but like many many successful entrepreneurs it didn’t quite work out for you did it? In that world?

Kanya King
No I mean I actually left school at fifteen to be honest.

Elliot Moss
Fifteen wow.

Kanya King
Yeah and I became a parent at sixteen so I had huge amounts of responsibility and I very much did not want to be a negative stereotype of a single mother living off benefits so in a way that motivated me to make something of my life and I soon realised that you know, I had lots of dreams like many other young people but it would be discipline and controls that would turn that into reality.

Elliot Moss
You managed to get your first mortgage at seventeen?

Kanya King
Yes I did.

Elliot Moss
How did you do that? You wouldn’t be able to do that now.

Kanya King
No my gosh how things have changed. I mean in a way property was my first real business because, you know, having shared a room with many other siblings in a kind of crowded Council flat, I needed to get on the housing ladder very fast.

Elliot Moss
How did you do it? How did you get the money together?

Kanya King
Well I had multiple jobs really. So I would get up very early, I, you know, used to do promotional work and I eventually had my own promotional agency because that work fitted in with my lifestyle. You know I could get up at all sorts of early hours in the morning and I could, whether it was doing marketing research or work at the weekend it kind of fitted in with what I needed to do really so.

Elliot Moss
And you managed that even having a young child as well?

Kanya King
I did manage it. I mean I look back and I realise wow you know how difficult it was but actually I needed to have my own place, you know, I needed to have my own space and it was – I look back and I realise it was the best thing I could ever have done. But at the time my mother tried to persuade me not to do it because she thought it would be a huge risk and my mother had this huge ambition for me to be a teacher and have a proper safe, secure job. That was her ideal for me but I had other ideas.

Elliot Moss
And the first I guess, the biggest other idea was to create the thing called MOBO. Tell me a little bit and we will talk much more after the traffic and travel which is coming up shortly. Tell me about where that idea came from?

Kanya King
Well I at a young age, I was organising lots of gigs and showcases for my friends because I had a lot of talented musicians as friends but they always looked beyond these shores, they always looked to somewhere like America where they might get recognition and it was at a time I guess where the musical landscape was changing and there was an audience out there that wasn’t being catered for and so that is why I guess I founded the MOBO Awards because I wanted to inspire, educate and motivate young people via the MOBO Awards to achieve their full potential.

Elliot Moss
And you are going to hear much more about how the first show got put on within six weeks of actually getting the go ahead. Latest travel as I promised in a couple of minutes and before that, some words of wisdom for your burgeoning business from our program partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning 9.00am sharp here on Jazz FM and on British Airways if you happen to be flying; FT.com; Cityam.com and all sorts of other places I am sure in due course. Kanya King is my business shaper today; she is the founder and she is the CEO of the MOBO Organisation and you just started telling me about where that great idea came from about getting people, getting people exposed to music – there was an audience there, there was no one doing it. You couldn’t get any money to do this?

Kanya King
I certainly could not get any money. I mean I had this great dream for the business you know, that would – I had the dream for the business that I would create this international platform in the form of award ceremony and provide you know, diversity in the music industry by celebrating genres such as hip hop, reggae, gospel, you know jazz etc., but you know I was told that there wasn’t an audience out there that would believe and it would never work. So after talking to many many organisations and realising you know, that there was no way I was going to find the funding for this I thought, you know what, if you believe in this so much you need to put your money where your mouth is. And I didn’t tell my mother at the time, you know and I just re-mortgaged my house and I put all the funds in to pay for the broadcast of the ceremony.

Elliot Moss
And 1997 first one, Tony Blair in the audience.

Kanya King
Actually it was 1996 was our very first ceremony.

Elliot Moss
1996 the first one, not ’97 but Tony Blair is in the audience still and Lionel Ritchie is your, is your lifetime achievement award winner?

Kanya King
Yes that’s right. I mean we, we – when we had been given the go ahead by Carlton Television they told us, we’ve got good news and bad news for you, you know. The good news is we are going to give you this TV slot but the bad news is we need you to put the show on in six weeks’ time and we’ve got you know, little funding and that sounded very familiar. But you know when you get opportunities like this…

Elliot Moss
You had to grab it?

Kanya King
Exactly. You grasp it with both hands and I thought, you know we’ve got to grab this opportunity and I just wasn’t sure how we were going to find the funds to put it on but you know what, we had the determination and we were very driven and I managed to enlist some friends together and I moved from my bedroom where I had been working and found offices in order to pull everything together.

Elliot Moss
And that first show was a huge success?

Kanya King
The first show was a huge success because we did contact Tony Blair, was leader of the opposition at the time, we had had seventeen years of a conservative Government and he was seen as this big hope really.

Elliot Moss
The change agent?

Kanya King
Exactly. That was going to kind of change the landscape. There was a lot of optimism around it and we contacted his office and of course when you contact him like your know six weeks before a show they said, look his schedule has been set, you know, months and months in advance there is no way it is going to happen but I remember saying, look is it okay if we keep in touch with you just in a very very small chance that circumstances might change and he might be available to attend and they were like fine about it. There is a fine line between persistence and being a pain.

Elliot Moss
And how did you manage to be persistent but not a pain?

Kanya King
Well we said you know any good news that we had we then told them about it and so they didn’t mind hearing all this kind of exciting news and then I remember I think it was about two days before our show they said, do you know what, don’t get your hopes up high but…

Elliot Moss
But? He’s coming.

Kanya King
…and of course we then went into overdrive you know.

Elliot Moss
And eighteen years later I think there is around four hundred million viewers, two hundred countries and it all started because Tony came. It’s all about Tony Blair, it always is. Fantastic.

Kanya King
Tony and Cherie Blair came together and they launched our very first ceremony. But not only them, I mean we had, you know Lennox Lewis supported it; you know we had all the good and the great really turned up in their droves and it was seen as a huge success.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant stuff. Stay with me for much more from Kanya King, my business shaper. Time for some music from indeed this years’ MOBO nominees. This one from Andreas Varady and it is Swing 42, written of course for those of you in the know by Django Rheinhardt.

That was Andreas Varady with Swing 42 one of Quincy Jones’ protégés. My business shaper today is Kanya King and we have been talking about how six weeks was easy, how getting the future Prime Minister to the first event, no problem. Four hundred million viewers as I said, two hundred countries later. In the last eighteen years and you said there is a fine line Elliott in it between persistence and being a pain. How have you retained the ability to stay on the right side of that line? Because you are now, you are an MBE, you are a poster girl for female entrepreneurs, all sorts of fantastic things have happened. What have you hung on to that has kept you grounded and focussed and successful?

Kanya King
I guess you know what resonates with me so well is the idea that we can support, champion and celebrate other creative talent. What I realise is there is a certain individual that we tend to kind of work with and support and they are individuals that tend to come from a challenging background but have that kind of determination and big dreams, that kind of audaciousness about them and that very much, you know, I have a kind of affinity with that individual and that is the type of person that we try to help and support throughout our kind of, the MOBO journey.

Elliot Moss
Are there times though when you have seen artists along the way where they are clearly, they’ve got the attitude but they haven’t got the talent? Or they’ve got the talent but they haven’t got the attitude? I mean what do you do because I imagine you’re – I know your next iteration of the MOBO business will be around mentoring and things. I want to talk about that before we finish but how have you ensured that you have played a kind of coaching role in that? I imagine you have?

Kanya King
Yeah there are a lot of artists that we’ve worked with before they have become global superstars where we have given them their first break. Their first platform.

Elliot Moss
Give me a couple?

Kanya King
Well for example, you know, NDubz. They ended up doing a kind of music showcase for us and then they went on to win Best Newcomer and they have gone on record as saying they wouldn’t be around today even as individuals if it wasn’t for the MOBO platform but also Amy Winehouse. Amy Winehouse performed at our nomination launch. She had this incredible big bold voice and this was before her debut album and everybody was just mesmerised, you know these type of events you have people talking and networking and they are noisy but no one said a word, everybody just listened because you know, she was just an incredible talent.

Elliot Moss
And on the other side of it, the nuts and bolts of the operation and the business and the commercial stuff, you are quoted as saying ‘I didn’t know anything. I mean don’t do what I did’. How have you become the business woman that you are now?

Kanya King
You know you are absolutely right you don’t know what you don’t know and I do remember how naive I was when starting out. I, you know, I done everything you shouldn’t do when starting out in the business world. You know I didn’t have any mentors, I went into the music industry and I had no experience of it, I didn’t have any lawyers or legal people you know, amongst my circle of friends that I could turn to whenever I needed that much needed advice and you know, I just basically did everything you shouldn’t do when starting out. So I soon realised that it was important for me to build this kind of master mind network around me because you know, when you are starting your own business your head is down and you are taking on multiple roles, whether that’s kind of sales and marketing or whether that’s you know, finding office space, you are doing it all yourself. But it makes a very – you know my mother said to me with the right advisors are many plans succeed and so it was important for me to have that team around me that whenever I had kind of challenges I could pick up the phone and speak to them and they would give me their great advice and wisdom.

Elliot Moss
And that is why eighteen years later you are still going strong. Final chat coming up with Kanya today plus we are going to play a track from MOBO nominee, Zara McFarlane; that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Move from Zara McFarlane, another nominee for the MOBO Awards which are taking place next week on ITV, another three year deal apparently. Kanya King for the next few minutes only, precious minutes they are too is my business shaper. We have been talking about the past; we’ve been talking about where you’ve come to now. You have got this fantastic three year deal with ITV, you had six weeks to start with now you’ve got a kind of the world, not quite at your feet because you wouldn’t feel like that I am sure but you’ve got big ideas for where MOBO goes next. Tell me a little bit about how you are going to take it on from the awards and the other things that you do?

Kanya King
Yeah most people know us for our flagship show of course the MOBO Awards but there are so many other things we do. I mean we produce multi-artist shows and events but we also kind of produce tours, at the same time we work with you know, many brands that kind of have the same ethos and values as us and so throughout the year you know, we have an artist development programme and it is about helping and championing artists so that they can have a sustainable career in the music industry. So we put them with vital contacts that you need in the music industry in order to help take you to that next level and we will put together like a bespoke package for them and so we provide you know, whether it is producers or recording studio time or we try and mentor them so that they know how to kind of make money and monetise you know obviously the music that they create. So there is a number of things we do but we’ve also taken a huge step in terms of going into other areas in the creative fields so that we can kind of support talent wherever they might come from but also help them to achieve success in their chosen creative fields.

Elliot Moss
Do you think the reason why so many people seek you out for advice and want you to appear on television programmes and radio programmes like this one; is it because you have managed to combine a nurturing belief in talent with a commercial theme that works? Do you think that is what it is or is it something else?

Kanya King
Yeah I think it is because that we have been around a long time. We are an independent organisation that punches above our weight. We have a very high profile brand presence and that has in a way allowed us to you know, extend our brand into many other areas. So you know, we are also going to be next year, we are going to be having products, music products that come out and so you know, we’ve got, you know, we have big dreams and you know, we have started to work with other organisations. I mean we have partnered with HTC, the fantastic innovative handset manufacturer and we are doing a number of wonderful things with them.

Elliot Moss
Just before I let you go and good luck I hope it goes really well next week, I am sure it will. What is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Kanya King
Right my song choice is Curtis Mayfield, Move On Up because it really resonates with me personally but also I think it kind of demonstrates what MOBO is all about. You know, the lyrics are very much; it’s about keeping an eye on the prize no matter what and really kind of overcoming many kind of obstacles and challenges.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic, this is your song choice; it is Curtis Mayfield, Move On Up and thank you very much for being my business shaper today.

Kanya King
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
That was Curtis Mayfield with Move On Up, the song choice of my business shaper today, Kanya King. Someone who learnt the notion of responsibility at a very very young age. Someone who had a vision for what they wanted to achieve and someone who has been continually persistent in the pursuit of achieving that vision and has done so fantastically, brilliant stuff. Join me again, same time, same place – that’s 9.00am next Saturday here on Jazz FM for another edition of Jazz Shapers. In the meantime though stay with us because coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams.

Kanya King is an internationally recognised entrepreneur and innovator in the British music industry. As CEO and founder of MOBO, she is the dynamic force behind the MOBO brand and has played an instrumental role in elevating Urban music and culture to mainstream popular status in the U.K.

Kanya’s dedication to MOBO music has since been recognised by a number of influential and prominent bodies.  Recent accolades include being listed in the 2011 Guardian Music Power 100 and being honoured as a Patron of Music at City of Westminster College.

A number of modern artists – including Amy Winehouse, N-Dubz and Emeli Sandé – have had their careers boosted by MOBO.

She has been listed in Real Business Britain’s 100 Most Entrepreneurial Women and the Evening Standard’s 1000 London’s Most Influential People for a number of years. In addition to this she has received numerous honours for her business and community achievements including an Honorary Fellowship at Goldsmith University and a Doctorate of Business at both London and Leeds Metropolitan Universities. More recently she has been nominated as one of the top 10 role models in this country.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Kanya has plans afoot to expand the MOBO brand and its influence still further.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow Kanya on Twitter @KanyaKing .

I grew up in a very crowded council flat and I soon realised I needed to help contribute to the household finances.

I left school at 15 and became a parent at 16. I did not want to be a negative stereotype of a single mother living off benefits. That motivated me to make something of my life.

I had a lot of talented musicians as friends and at a young age I was organising lots of gigs and showcases for them.

There was an audience out there that wasn’t being catered for, which is why I founded the MOBO Awards – I wanted to inspire, educate and motivate young people to achieve their full potential.

My dream was to create this international platform in the form of an awards ceremony and encourage diversity in the music industry by celebrating genres like hip hop, reggae, gospel, jazz etc. I was told it would never work.

I re-mortgaged my house and used all the funds to pay for the broadcast of the ceremony. I didn’t tell my mother at the time.

Carlton Television said, we’ve got good news and bad news: we’ll give you the TV slot, but we need you to put the show on in six weeks’ time.

The first show in 1996 was a huge success: Tony and Cherie Blair launched the ceremony.

What resonates with me now is the idea that we can support, champion and celebrate other creative talent.

I am as motivated now as I was all those years ago. Keep an eye on the prize no matter what and you can overcome the obstacles.