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Olivia Stock
29 April 2024, 15:00

Exhibition celebrating 500 years of Black music in Britain, Beyond The Bassline, opens in London

Beyond The Bassline celebrates the people, spaces and genres that have defined the landscape of Black British music

Photo of three people sitting next to wall of sound systems at Notting Hill carnival
Credit: Adrian Boot

A new exhibition celebrating 500 years of Black music in Britain has opened in London. 

Running at the British Library until 26th August, Beyond the Bassline will chart the influence of Black British musicians, creatives and entrepreneurs in popular music since the 16th-century. The immersive exhibition features over 200 artefacts that span across five centuries, along with live performances, interactive displays, and archival footage traversing musical genres from classical, gospel and jazz through to reggae, jungle and afroswing.

Exhibits on display include records from musicians Fela Kuti and Shirley Bassey, nostalgic video archives of grime’s golden era captured on Risky Roadz DVD, and the equipment that Jamal Edwards used to start grime Youtube channel, SBTV

Beyond the Bassline also spotlights the spaces – physical, digital and symbolic – that have “cultivated creative expression” and inspired a wealth of Black British music genres, including Bristol’s Bamboo Club and Reno in Manchester, and carnivals, community centres and record shops across the country.

A programme of public events will accompany Beyond The Bassline, including live performances, club takeovers by No Signal, Touching Bass and Queer Bruk, and in-conversation events with singer-songwriters such as Eddy Grant and Joan Armatrading. 

iwoyi: within the echo – a new ten-minute film and sound installation created in collaboration with Touching Bass, Tayo Rapoport and Rohan Ayinde – also features, exploring the radical potential of Black British music to “manifest reparative futures.” Find out more about the programme here.

The exhibition – curated by Dr Aleema Gray at the British Library in partnership with the University of Westminster’s Mykaell Riley – aims to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the complexity of Black British music history among visitors. It follows a three-year partnership working to “research, foreground and reposition six centuries of African musical contributions to the UK.”

"[The exhibition] represents a timely opportunity to broaden our understanding of Black British music and situate it within a historical conversation," said Green. "Black British music is more than a soundtrack. It has formed part of an expansive cultural industry that transformed British culture."

Tickets for Beyond The Bassline cost £15 or adults and £10 for children, with some dates offering a Pay What You Can price, starting at £1. You can book a place now. An associated book has also been published, and is available online for £30.00.