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Black British exhibition

First exhibition documenting 500 years of Black music in Britain to open at the British Library

27 February 2024, 12:16 | Written by Tyler Damara Kelly

Beyond the Bassline, taking place from 26 April – 26 August at the British Library, is the first major exhibition to document the 500-year musical journey of African and Caribbean people in Britain.

Traversing musical genres, from classical, gospel and jazz through to reggae, jungle and afroswing, Beyond the Bassline charts the influence of Black British musicians, creatives and entrepreneurs on popular music since the 16th-century. It also considers the role emerging technologies and the internet have played in creating, listening to and sharing music.

The exhibition spotlights the spaces – physical, digital and symbolic – that have cultivated creative expression and inspired a number of Black British music genres, from The Reno in Manchester, Bristol’s Bamboo Club, Scottish club night The Reggae Klub and The Four Aces in London, to carnivals, community centres and record shops across the country.

To accompany Beyond the Bassline there will be a rich programme of public events, including live performances, club takeovers by No Signal (26 April), Touching Bass (3 May and 12 July) and Queer Bruk (21 June), as well as in conversation events with eminent singer-songwriters Eddy Grant (26 April) and Joan Armatrading (18 June), with more to be revealed. Visitors to Beyond the Bassline will also get to see a new, specially commissioned film. iwoyi: within the echo is a ten-minute film and sound installation exploring the radical potential of Black British music to manifest reparative futures.

Associate Professor Mykaell Riley, guest curator of Beyond the Bassline at the British Library and Director of The Black Music Research Unit at the University of Westminster, said: "This is British history, this is popular music. And the exhibition is not an end point but the beginning of a new positioning of Black British music, within academic research and high art spaces."

Beyond the Bassline tickets are on general sale now, and cost £15 with concessions available. There will be Pay What You Can days on the first Wednesday of every month. For more information, visit

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