Exhibition on history and global influence of Black British music to open in V&A East Museum

A new exhibition exploring the history and global influence of Black British music is set to open at the V&A East Museum in 2025. 

The Music Is Black: A British Story will be the first exhibition at the V&A's East Museum, which is set to open in East Bank, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2025. The landmark immersive exhibition will explore the immense contribution of Black music to British culture and around the world.

Celebrating 125 years of Black music in Britain, from UK garage, grime and drum & bass to jazz, reggae, 2 Tone and trip-hop, the exhibition will trace the stories of early 20th Century pioneers as well as modern trailblazers such as Sampha, Little Simz, FKA Twigs, Tems, Jorja Smith and recent Mercury Prize winners Ezra Collective.

Announced today, organisers have said that the exhibition will "reveal how Black British music has shaped British culture - and its global impact - to tell a long-overdue story of Black excellence, struggle, resilience, and joy.

"Spanning 1900 to the present day, The Music Is Black: A British Story will celebrate 125 years of Black music in Britain, taking visitors into the heart of music making, from Carnival to club nights, recording studios and record shops, MC battles, festivals, and more."

With full access to the BBC Archive, as well as the V&A's extensive archive of performances in Britain and around the world, the exhibition will showcase the work of artists as diverse as early pioneers Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Winifred Atwell to, Fabio & Grooverider, Jah Shaka, Goldie, Massive Attack and Tricky. It will also spotlight the creativity and impact of East London on Black British music, highlighting the likes of All Points East, Hackney Carnival, Rinse FM and more.

Jacqueline Springer, curator of The Music Is Black: A British Story and curator of Africa and Diaspora Performance at the V&A, said: “Music is the soundtrack to our lives, and one of the most powerful tools of unification. 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.”

Last t month, Trevor Nelson, Google and YouTube unveiled a new multimedia project to celebrate the impact of Black British music. UNION BLACK: Sounds Of A Nation, which is led by its ambassador Nelson, the BBC Radio DJ known for championing British R&B and hip-hop, is a new online exhibition launched by Google Arts & Culture and YouTube.

Speaking about the exhibition at V&A East, Trevor Nelson said: “There are so many different colours and shades of Black music, and so many eclectic styles that have emerged from the UK. The fact that we haven’t had a national exhibition on Black British music is quite surprising to me. I feel it needs to be documented. But more importantly, to tell the stories that are untold.”