BLACK MUSIC RESEARCH UNIT
The Black Music Research Unit was founded by its director Mykaell Riley in order to to promote workshops, seminars, guest lectures and collaborative research projects, as well as to encourage networking of media scholars, practitioners, policy-makers and students of Caribbean music.
Its first major project entitled ‘Bass Culture’ that aims to highlight British popular music heritage was funded by the AHRC. Mykaell Riley acts as Principle Investigator leading an interdisciplinary team on this groundbreaking project.
Meanwhile the Black Music Research Unit is expanding its projects and teams through collaboration on further projects, with a wide range of musicians, academics, cultural and creative practitioners.
HISTORY OF THE BMRU
The Black Music Research Unit was established at University of Westminster by Mykaell S. Riley as an interdisciplinary group of researchers, and practitioners providing a mix of academic and industry expertise. Our focus is the largely undocumented musical experience, of black and minority ethnic communities in the UK.
A key objective is to explore and promote the contributions made by these post-war, ‘black music’ performers, songwriters, musicians and industry personnel. Our first large-scale project is focused on developing a better understanding of the role played by Britain’s Caribbean community, in a story that remains largely invisible in accounts of popular music, but a story hidden in plain sight. We’ve titled this project “Bass Culture” and we apply this heading as an umbrella term, framing the impact of Jamaican music on Britain over the last sixty years.
As the ‘black music’ canon is extensive, a key objective of the Black Music Research Unit (BMRU) is to provide a central hub for existing projects and new research. In addition the BMRU is mapping and signposting existing projects within the subject area.
We’re constantly extending our network of industry and community partners, many of which can be found through our Bass Culture website. Please click on the logo for further information.
Director Mykaell Riley
Mykaell Riley began his career in the late seventies as a performer with pioneering Reggae outfit ‘Steel Pulse’ who went on to achieve a Grammy. In the nineties he founded the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra, who represent the most visibly black/multicultural collection of classically trained musicians in the UK.
Having been a professional writer/producer and performer for over 25 years, achieving Silver, Gold and Platinum awards and contributing to four number 1 singles and seven number 1 albums via his production and writing work, he became a music industry consultant and a content developer for music related educational programmes.
Mykael Riley is a subject specialist (music/production) for the Open University validation panel. He is a member Arts & Business foundation, a board member of Camden Arts & Business Consortium, on the steering group for South Themes College, and a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts.
BASS CULTURE DOCUMENTARY
“This is the story of the soundtrack to multiculturalism, a hidden history that is still impacting on new music.”
The Film Bass Culture was commissioned by the Black Music Research Unit as part of the AHRC research project mapping the impact of Jamaican music on Britain over the last half century. Central to this documentary is the voices of four generations of African-Caribbean and black British cultural producers – musicians, songwriters, DJs, sound system crews, and industry professionals. Through key voices central to five decades of new British genres such as; British Roots reggae, UK Dub, Pop reggae, Brit Ska (two tone), Jungle, Drum And Bass, Trip-Hop, UK Garage, 2 Step, Dub Step, Grime, and a host of other UK sub genres – we explores the impact of Jamaican music on popular British culture, that continues to influenced global popular culture.
The film is produced by Fully Focused Community (FFC) a youth led media organisation that uses the power of film to raise awareness, challenge perceptions and transform lives. The production brings together film industry professionals with young people from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds in London.
EXHIBITION AT AMBIKA P3
The Bass Culture exhibition opened daily from the 25 Oct until Nov 22nd opposite Madame Tussauds (Baker St tube), at the Ambika-P3/ University of Westminster. It included films, talks, DJ’s, live acts + Soundsystems sessions.
The exhibition is staged by Bass Culture Research, a three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project set up to explore the impact of Jamaican music in the UK. The project made headlines last year for its work on The Grime Report, which led to the withdrawal of Form 696, a controversial risk assessment form criticised for being discriminatory and targeting genres such as grime.
Partners of the exhibition include the AHRC, Black Cultural Archives, British Library, SOAS, Goldsmiths, Winkball, University, Urbanimage and Camera Press.
Bass Culture is the first Arts and Humanities Research Council award to the Black Music Research Unit at the University of Westminster. The three-year academic research project explores the impact of Jamaican and Jamaican-influenced music on British culture. Covering the period from the 1960s to the present day, with an initial focus on London and a particular interest in the years 1976 – 1981, the research investigates the profound ways in which the island’s music remade popular music in Britain – and was fundamental in the emergence of multiculture in the British city and the redefinition of the post-colonial nation.
The research explores the impact of Bass Culture through the explosion of Jamaican genres like ska, reggae and dub in the UK to the development of distinct British variants like dub poetry, two-tone and lovers rock. It examines how and why this music’s influence has and continues to transform British pop from Susan Cadogan or The Clash to or Stormzy; and map the evolution of subcultural dance genres with Bass at their root, jungle to broken beat, dubstep to grime. Bass Culture is explored as a creative practice, an independent economy and a source of alternative philosophical and political ideas.
Key outputs include:
• Series of 60 filmed oral history interviews – with musicians and producers, DJs and dancers, sound system crews, writers, thinkers, music industry professionals, visual artists and more
• Feature-length documentary film produced in partnership with youth led media organization Fully Focused Productions
• 2 conferences in 2019
• Public events, volunteering opportunities and workshops
The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training, in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe.
The term ‘Bass Culture’
Originating in the UK as the title of Linton Kwesi Johnson’s 1980 album, these two words “Bass” and “Culture” have evolved to transcend any individual genre, to reflect (directly or indirectly), music born out of the impact and influence of the Jamaican community and Jamaican music on Britain.
The term primarily focuses on the UK and explores the subsequent changes to indigenous music production, and the formation of new music communities at the heart of this scene. The term speaks to a key catalyst within popular music in Britain, one which continues to underpin multiculturalism and new music, whilst bridging generational divides.
In a narrative that begins a decade earlier in Jamaica, in Britain it was the success of ska in the mid-60s which brought the music to national attention. We suggest the term ‘bass culture’ could include but would not be limited to blue beat, ska, rock steady, reggae, dub, roots, British reggae, Brit ska, jungle, drum and bass, trip hop, UK garage, 2 step, grime, dubstep and a host of other genres and sub genres born out of the British experience.
More information is available on the external website here.