The first of its kind, The British Library's new exhibition explores the 500 year history and everlasting legacy of Black British Music.

Five centuries worth of Black British Music is an epic tale to tell, and finally, The British Library is shedding light on it in Beyond The Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music. Opening last Friday, the unprecedented exhibition sees one of the world’s largest collections of sound recordings dug out of the archive, studied and celebrated. 200 exhibits transport you through time and culture, offering profound insights into the layered Black experiences which birthed the UK’s biggest sounds.


In partnership with Westminster University’s Black Music Research Unit, The British Library collaborated with artists from across the UK to curate this multi-sensory map of Black music in Britain. These contemporary contributions take form in soundscapes, artworks and films, and sit alongside a fascinating array of artefacts; letters written by 18th-century composer Ignatius Sancho, garments worn by members of 2 tone band The Selecter, and a Fender electric guitar owned by Dennis Bovell and featured in Janet Kay’s ‘Silly Games’.


The display also features iconic vestiges which are globally recognisable. Among them are Stormzy’s signed set list for his 2019 Glastonbury performance, Fela Kuti records and archive videos of garage and grime’s golden era. The pieces appear chronologically, beginning in The Ocean, (1500s-1870s), and ending in Cyberspace (1990s-2020s), which looks at the now and into the future.

As this transfixing timeline unpacks history, interruptions invite new perspectives to interact: Cardiff-based Jukebox Collective explores themes of migration and Black identity through dance whilst Leeds’ African Caribbean community honours the legacy of frontline music protest through poetry. Rounding off the exhibition is a captivating film installation made in collaboration with south London-based music community Touching Bass. 


Beyond The Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music is open now until 26th August 2024. Adult tickets start at £10, on the first Wednesday of each month The British Library offers ‘Pay What You Can’ tickets. 

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