An Exhibition About Black British Music Is Coming To London In 2025

By Olivia Emily

7 months ago

It’ll be the V&A East’s first major exhibition


A landmark exhibition has just been announced by the world-renowned V&A Museum, adding to its recent roster of groundbreaking exhibitions. Celebrating 125 years of Black music in Britain, The Music Is Black: A British Story will be the first exhibition presented at the new V&A East in Stratford.

V&A East: The Music Is Black: A British Story

Stormzy performs at Glastonbury 2019

Adrian Boot, ‘Stormzy performs at
Glastonbury 2019’
© Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv

Spanning Jazz, Reggae, 2 Tone, Drum & Bass, Trip Hop, Garage, Grime and more, The Music Is Black: A British Story will reveal how Black British music has shaped British culture as a whole (as well as exploring its international impact) to tell a long-overdue story of Black excellence, struggle, resilience, and joy. Spanning 1900 to the present day, The Music Is Black will reveal the hidden stories behind early 20th Century pioneers, international music-makers and today’s groundbreaking artists, from Sampha to Little Simz, Tems to Jorja Smith, Ezra Collective and more. Visitors will be transported into the heart of music making, from Carnival to club nights, recording studios to record shops, MC battles to festivals.

‘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. ‘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. 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

‘The Selecter with Pauline Black’, 1981
© Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv

The exhibition is part of a new season of programming at the East Bank, London’s new cultural quarter opening in phases from autumn 2023 and housing the BBC, Sadlers Wells East, UAL’s London College of Fashion, and UCL East, as well as the new V&A East Museum in 2025. Along with the news of this exhibition, the V&A East Culture Council was launched, with Ambassadors including Yinka Shonibare CBE, Samuel Ross, Klaudia Fior, Elijah and Nourishment.

What To Expect From The Music Is Black

Drawing on the unparalleled BBC Archive, The Music Is Black will have a soundtrack spanning generations, and will be accompanied by an evocative set design. Visitors can expect to hear from the following artists, exploring their lives both centre-stage and behind the scenes:

  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
  • Winifred Atwell
  • Emile Ford
  • Janet Kay
  • Joan Armatrading
  • Eddy Grant
  • Sade
  • Soul II Soul
  • Seal
  • Fabio & Grooverider
  • Goldie
  • Massive Attack
  • Tricky
  • Shabaka Hutchings
  • Kano
  • Little Simz
  • Jorja Smith
  • Nubya Garcia
  • Ezra Collective
Janet Kay

Tim Barrow, ‘Janet Kay’
© Tim Barrow, urbanimage.tv

Likewise, The Music Is Black will draw on the V&A’s extensive archive of performance in Britain and around the world, joining the institution’s track record in crafting evocative and immersive performance exhibitions from David Bowie Is… (2013) to Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains (2017) and DIVA (2023). Visitors will see:

  • Never-before-seen major new acquisitions and international loans
  • A newly commissioned film by Meeks & Frost, the directorial duo behind J Hus, Pa Salieu and Kojey Radical’s music videos
  • Immersive AV
  • Large-scale installations
  • Seminal musical instruments, equipment and personal belongings from some of the most ground-breaking music-makers of the last century
  • Paintings, prints, playbills and posters
  • Photography
  • Sculpture
  • Clips from TV and film
  • Fashion and textiles

This will all be rooted in a very local context: East London is home to All Points East festival and Hackney Carnival, as well as being the birthplace of Rinse FM, Grime, and artists and groups including Newham Generals, East Connection, Roll Deep, and N.A.S.T.Y Crew. Known for its legendary radio stations, studios, clubs, and venues – from Jammer’s Basement (Leytonstone, Waltham Forest) where Lord of the Mics was founded, to the now closed The Blue Note (Hoxton Square, Hackney), where Drum & Bass exploded on a Sunday night courtesy of the pioneering Metalheadz sessions by Goldie and Kemistry & Storm – The Music Is Black will be showcased at the very site of Black British musical revolution.

Eddie Otchere, ‘So Solid Crew’, Battersea Park, 2001

Eddie Otchere, ‘So Solid Crew’, Battersea Park, 2001. © Eddie Otchere

When?

The Music Is Black: A British Story will open in 2025

Where?

V&A East Museum (East Bank, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London)

BOOK IT

Stay up to date with the V&A East at vam.ac.uk