Music of Black Origin 'sell-out'

Britain's Mobo award nominations are out, and are proving as reliably contentious as ever. Whether it's Echoes magazine angrily and justly protesting the continued, bewildering omission of a soul category or drug addict white singer Amy Winehouse's four nominations giving gossip columnists another excuse to have a dig, the Mobos have always seemed able to generate controversy.

This is the best aspect of the embattled institution, which is not a patch America's Soul Train Music Awards that is proud to honour the best Black talent. The fact that people who normally take little notice of Black music are talking about it today is a great thing. But the list put together by Kanya King and her committee is desperately disappointing to anyone holding out hope that the Mobos might attempt to defend black music in its hour of need rather than simply put on a glitzy party.

A string of headlines continue to link gang violence, gun and knife crime with the supposedly pernicious influence of, in particular, rap and grime music. Recent speeches by Hazel Blears (on Black role models) and David Cameron (anarchic Britain) have carefully avoided blaming musicians, yet coverage of these speeches has continued to make the link. Through hard work and careful promotion, the Mobos are now guaranteed plenty of media attention.

King herself has spoken of the Mobos "social and cultural responsibility": so why not use that hard-won visibility to counter the pervasively negative press, and eulogise people who have constructive things to bring to the debate - to single out those positive role models we are forever being told are absent from black

While the evidently troubled Winehouse, a poster child for substance abuse and self-destruction, gets four nominations, there is only one for Beverley Knight, who released the best LP of her uncommonly long career in April; she was given an MBE in February this year in recognition of her charity work, advocacy and contribution to British music, but won the last of her three Mobos in 1999.

Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco made last year's best rap album, a gripping collection of impassioned, intelligent hip-hop that showed the genre's power to affect its listeners positively, but was overlooked for artists with higher sales and less substance. East London rapper Klashnekoff, whose superb Lionheart: Tussle with the Beast LP is among this year's undisputed highlights, writes with passion and erudition about the reasons why underprivileged British youth turn to gangs, crime and violence.

Yet he fails to pick up a single nomination, while Dizzee Rascal gets four. That's not meant as criticism of Dizzee, who will be a worthy winner, surely, of at least one category - but as recent wins for Akala and Sway proved, the Mobos' real value lies in the exposure they can give to new talent, rather than in the affirmation they can bestow on established artists.

While it's great to see names like N-Dubz, Tinchy Stryder and Unklejam getting some vital publicity, more risks should have been taken.

Too many new faces will put off advertisers, sponsors and broadcast partners, but a few more would have helped restore some of the Mobos' tattered credibility. Taking this path would doubtless have been commercially troublesome: fewer big-name nominations might result in a diminution in column inches and fewer A-list attendees on September 19.

By making the conservative, safe, and very clearly understandable choice, the Mobos have managed to continue to maintain an elevated profile. But the awards look to have bottled their responsibilities to the music they profess to serve.