Beyond the Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music

For centuries, Black communities have created music in the UK, melding global influences into a Black British sound that has echoed through generations.

Beyond the Bassline at the British Library, the first major exhibition of its kind anywhere in the world, is about 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.

Beyond the Bassline is a map through Black music in Britain.  Transporting experiences give way to absorbing soundscapes, artworks and films produced by artists and collectives across the UK. Archival footage leads into spectacular costumes, interactive displays, and of course, music. And at the conclusion of the exhibition, Tayo Rapoport and Rohan Ayinde present a new multi-screen film installation in collaboration with Touching Bass, a South London-based musical movement and curatorial platform.

Dive into letters from 18th-century composer Ignatius Sancho, glittering props and outfits of glamorous performers, records from the likes of Fela Kuti and Shirley Bassey, nostalgic video archive of grime’s golden era captured on Risky Roadz DVD and the equipment that Jamal Edwards used to start SB.TV, the industry-defining YouTube channel dedicated to Black British Music. Here, alongside over 200 exhibits, they are woven into union as you journey through an ever-evolving and ever-expanding history.

The Black Music Research Unit has worked in collaboration with the British Library over the past two years to curate a never-before-seen exhibition of Black-British music, life, spirit and culture. 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. 

The Exhibition will run between April and August 2024. Get your tickets here.

Want to learn more about the research behind the exhibition? Check out the accompanying Beyond the Bassline book, filled with engaging essays from academics, curators and musicians alike. You can find the book on sale at the British Library, or grab a copy online here.

The BMRU and British Library have organised a programme of events to support the exhibition, including readings, discussions, panels and performances. To find the schedule of events, click here.

An academic symposium inspired by the exhibition is planned for July 2024. To learn more about it, submit papers and buy tickets, click here.