Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

24 April 2024

Beyond the Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music

Beyond the Bassline banner image for email
This Friday sees the opening of the British Library’s new exhibition ‘Beyond the Bassline’. Charting 500 years of history, it’s the first major exhibition about Black music in Britain.  

The exhibition presents over 200 exhibits, including original records and nostalgic film footage from the sound and vision archive, charting everything from jazz, afroswing and reggae to jungle and grime. These are positioned alongside artefacts like letters from 18th-century composer Ignatius Sancho, glittering props and outfits of carnival performers, images from acclaimed photographers and the equipment that Jamal Edwards used to start SB.TV, the industry-defining YouTube channel dedicated to Black British Music.

Woven into this curated narrative, visitors can also experience specially commissioned soundscapes, artworks and film installations produced by artists and collectives across the UK.

The exhibition has been curated by the British Library’s Dr Aleema Gray in collaboration with Dr Mykaell Riley from the University of Westminster. Aleema Gray says:

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

Beyond the Bassline celebrates more than music. It’s about the places where these sounds were born: the clubs, the carnivals, the stages, the kerbside auditoriums. It is the voice of community, resistance, culture and joy. It is a celebration of the trailblazers and innovators that brought new music to the UK, and the layered Black experiences that have birthed a thriving musical culture and history.

About the exhibition Mykaell Riley adds:

Beyond the Bassline is both a celebration and a starting point, spotlighting the rich legacy of African and Caribbean influences in British music. Yet, this is just the beginning. There's much more to uncover in our ongoing quest to understand and honour the depth of Black British music's impact, on British musical heritage.

Tickets are available online now.