A never-before-seen exhibition of Black-British music, life, spirit and culture has opened at the British Library in London. The exhibition is the outcome of two years of collaboration between the Black Music Research Unit (led by Mykaell Riley) and the British Library. It celebrates the trailblazers and innovators that brought new music to the UK, and the layered Black experiences that have birthed a thriving music culture and history. 

Combining world-leading research with the British Library’s world-renowned resources, this exhibition is a long-awaited acknowledgement and celebration of the contributions Black communities have made to the cultural fabric of Britain, and an effort to tell stories that have been omitted from the historical record. Curated collaboratively by Dr Mykaell Riley and the British Library’s lead curator Dr Aleema Gray, work for the exhibition involved a combination of conventional archival work, community curation of items from Black-British musical legends, and input from local and national arts organisations. The exhibition features photography, print media, immersive video and film elements, and follows the story of Black-British musical heritage over the past 500 years.  

The BMRU is honoured to have spearheaded an exhibition that will disrupt the landscape, and change the way in which we see, do and experience history: by putting Black-British faces, culture and forms of remembering, front and centre on their own terms. 

Words by Lizzie Bowes (BMRU Research Associate) 

‘Beyond the Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music’ at The British Library. Photo: Terna Jogo

The exhibition will run between April–August 2024 and is accompanied by a catalogue, available to order online or from the British Library. Tickets are also available via the British Library website.

Beyond the Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music is a partnership with the Black Music Research Unit, part of the University of Westminster’s Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media