- Words Darcy Culverhouse
The landmark exhibition celebrates the staggering contribution Black British music has made to culture.
What better way to mark the opening of the V&A East Museum than with The Music is Black: A British Story installation? Gracing the V&A’s new doors in 2025—the opening date of the museum—the exhibition will reveal how Black British music has shaped British culture, telling a long-overdue story of Black excellence, struggle, resilience, and joy.
Spanning from 1900 to the present day, The Music Is Black: A British Story will celebrate 125 years of Black music in Britain, covering Jazz, Reggae, Jungle, Drill, Grime and more. With the use of BBC archives, the exhibition covers early pioneers such as composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Trinidadian pianist Winifred Atwell, as well as highlighting international trailblazers including three-time Grammy nominee Joan Armatrading.
The exhibition will also uncover the stories of early-20th century music-makers, international stars and today’s trailblazing cadre of artists, including Kano, Little Simz, Jorja Smith and Ezra Collective. Their seminal work is set to be reflected across a plethora of mediums including immersive photographs, paintings, sculptures, videos, fashion and film.
On top of the exhibition, V&A East Culture Council has been set in motion, with ambassadors including Yinka Shonibare CBE, RA, Samuel Ross, Klaudia Fior, Elijah and Tito Mogaji-Williams at the spearhead of forging V&A East’s pursuit to create opportunity and change.
“Music is the soundtrack to our lives, and one of the most powerful tools of unification”, says Jacqueline Springer, curator of The Music Is Black: A British Story and curator of Africa and Diaspora Performance at the V&A. “It brings collective and individual joy as we recite song lyrics at festivals and gigs, recall dance moves perfected in childhood bedrooms, and mime to guitar breaks, bassline drops and instrumental flourishes with glee.”
Springer continues, “Set against a backdrop of British colonialism and evolving social, political, and cultural landscapes, we will celebrate the richness and versatility of Black and Black British music as instruments of protest, affirmation, and creativity, and reveal the untold stories behind some of the world’s most popular music of all time.”
The Music Is Black: A British Story opens at V&A East Museum, East Bank, in 2025.