She’s always been an innovator, but she’s also had a lot of practice at persuading people to come round to her way of thinking. The youngest girl of nine children born to a Ghanaian father and Irish mother, Kanya grew up in a “crowded council flat” in Kilburn, North London in notably less enlightened times. But while her family faced “a huge amount of discrimination”, Kanya was influenced far more by her father’s advice to “be the best you can be”.
It was that advice that motivated her to start contributing to the family finances at a very young age in addition to getting onto the housing ladder and building a property portfolio. It drove her to study English Literature at Goldsmiths College and later, while working as a TV researcher, gave her the courage of her convictions that there was a place for a mainstream British awards ceremony celebrating music influenced and inspired by black music.
When she couldn’t find a financial backer who agreed with her (or, indeed, find many supporters in the wider music industry at a time when Britpop was at its peak and British urban music was so far under the radar it was practically invisible), she “put her money where her mouth is” and re-mortgaged her house to fund the TV production herself. That she not only persuaded Carlton TV to broadcast the 1996 event, but also managed to organise and arrange it inside six weeks, is testament to the dynamism of a woman who has become a watchword for great British entrepreneurship and business acumen.
And against those odds she succeeded ensuring that the first MOBO awards starring Tony Blair and featuring Lionel Richie as its Lifetime Achievement Award winner was the beginning of an iconic annual event. It’s become one of the most prestigious events on the international calendar, annually attracting A-list celebrities and music legends alike. Since then, MOBO has boosted the careers of everyone from Amy Winehouse to N-Dubz (Tulisa famously said the band “were on the edge of giving up” before they won Best Newcomer in 2007) and Emeli Sandé, providing the launchpad for British urban music to dominate both national and international charts.
MOBO has become much, much more than just an awards ceremony: it’s now a year-round, agenda-setting brand encompassing everything from live tours to a TV channel and website, while offering training and guidance to several generations of aspiring singers, MCs, DJs and producers.
“We’ve always encouraged young people to achieve not only their musical dreams, but also their entrepreneurial ones,” says Kanya, whose own passion and determination has seen her expand her own achievements far beyond the music business.
Kanya was presented with her MBE by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace and was personally invited by the Queen to an event celebrating exceptional achievements by British women that also featured JK Rowling and Cherie Blair. She’s also been acclaimed as one of London’s Most Influential People (Evening Standard), as one of Britain’s Most Entrepreneurial Women (Real Business), as one of Britain’s Most Influential Black People (Thomson Reuters/JP Morgan Power List) and more recently included in the top 100 women in the country for Radio 4’s Women’s hour list. She was awarded an honorary fellowship from Goldsmiths College in recognition of her services to the international music business
In demand as a media contributor Kanya makes regular appearances on the BBC, Sky, ITV and CNN and featuring in everything from the Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Telegraph to InStyle, Stylist and Hello! She also starred alongside Duncan Bannatyne and Jacqueline Gold on ITV’s “Fortune – Million Pound Giveaway”, giving financial backing to worthy causes and ambitious young people.
An impressive and inspiring speaker Kanya is in constant demand for community, educational and corporate events and her clients include everyone from the British Library and Leeds Metropolitan University to Morgan Stanley and the Scottish Institute for Enterprise.
And there’s more to come with plans afoot to expand the MOBO brand and its influence still further into international territories and further brand extensions.
Kanya addresses audiences all over the UK and her clients include including CAZBAH (on behalf on the Welsh Government), London Fusion, University of Hertfordshire, Leeds Metropolitan University, Business Link, Morgan Stanley, British Library, Monkton Senior School, Bracknell and Workingham College, and the Scottish Institute for Enterprise. In addition she is a Patron of the Horniman Museum and Ambassador for PRS.
In February 2013 she was assessed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4.
- 1996: First MOBO Awards Show;
- 1999: Joined Music Industry Task Force (Government committee) and appointed with an MBE;
- 2001: Initiated the release of a charity CD with 35 British artists and proceeds to Leukaemia and Sickle Cell Society;
- 2002: Presented with an Honorary Fellowship at Goldsmith University;
- 2003: Started annual educational student programmes supported by artists;
- 2005: Started international voting campaign for African artists to vote for Best African Act;
- 2006: Conferred with honorary degree of Doctor of Business Administration at London Metropolitan University;
- 2007: Panellist on ITV’s prime time series Fortune, Million Pound Giveaway and accepted role of ‘visiting professor’ for London Metropolitan University;
- 2008: Taken up in Bryan Adam’s photo series ‘Modern Muse’ at the National Portrait Gallery and represented as one of today’s black UK role models in the Black Britannia Exhibition at City Hall.
Kanya is regularly featured as one of the top 100 Black Britons as well as featured in the:
- Guardian top 30 ethnic minorities in media;
- Mayor’s power list as devised by New Nation (a number of years);
- Evening Standard’s 1000 London most influential people (a number of years).
Recent articles about her appeared in Financial Times, Independent, Guardian, Cosmopolitan, Growing Business, Start Your Business, HBOS, RBS and Easyjet magazines to name a few.
“One of the most powerful movers and shakers in this country” Evening Standard
"She’s one of the most powerful women in the music business.”
A huge thank you to Kanya for coming and talking at our Enterprise Spotlight event last night. Kanya’s talk was inspirational and the students, staff and local business attendees couldn’t stop asking questions. It was an absolute pleasure to meet such a successful entrepreneur who is still so down to earth and personable. Please thank Kanya again for giving up so much of her time to talk with our students! - University of Hertfordshire Enterprise Team
Please can you pass on our thanks to Kanya for speaking at our event yesterday. She was a perfect end to the challenge and the feedback from the young people, tutors and the client Welsh Government were excellent - Kate Parsons Cazbah