Skip to content
Home » V&A East’s First Exhibition Celebrates Black British Music

V&A East’s First Exhibition Celebrates Black British Music

  • by

V&A East has announced the details of its first landmark exhibition.

When the cultural centre opens on the East Bank in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, its inaugural major exhibition will look at the wide-reaching impact Black British music has had on UK culture.

Covering jazz, reggae, 2 tone, drum & bass, trip hop, UK garage and grime just to name a few, The Music Is Black: A British Story, celebrates 125 years of Black music in Britain.

Skunk Anansie at Glastonbury Festival1999 (Image: Rune Hellestad, Corbis, Getty Images)

In doing so, the exhibition reveals unknown stories behind early 20th century pioneers, international music-makers and ground-breaking artists of today including Sampha, Little Simz, Tems, Jorja Smith and Ezra Collective.

Greats of the past such as Dame Shirley Bassey will also feature, while connections will be drawn between British folk, American blues, R&B and the likes of Dusty Springfield, Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles and the Stones.

The Music is Black will also address the social, historical and cultural context behind Black British music which led to some of the UK’s most progressive musical genres.

‘Hi Tension’ 1979 (Image: Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv)

The exhibition’s curator Jacqueline Springer, Curator of The Music Is Black said the exploration of Black British music will be contextualised within British colonialism.

She said: “Music is the soundtrack to our lives, and one of the most powerful tools of unification. It brings collective and individual joy…

“Set against a backdrop of British colonialism and evolving social, political, and cultural landscapes, we will celebrate the richness and versality 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.”

Fans at the Northern Carnival Against Racism during The Specials set, Potternewton Park, Leeds, 1981 (Image: Syd Shelton)

The exhibition will draw on V&A’s extensive archive and relationships with fellow cultural organisations to present a mix of never-seen-before acquisitions and international loans, as well as immersive AV, large-scale installations and iconic musical instruments and equipment.

Personal belongings from some of the most ground-breaking music makers of last century will also be on display, as will be paintings, prints, posters, sculpture, fashion, photography and film.

Kano and Ghetto, i-D Live, Cargo, March 2005 (Image: Sam White)

This exhibition will inspire a season of programming across East Bank in collaboration with events, activities, displays and live performance from the BBC, Sadler’s Wells East, UAL’s London College of Fashion and UCL East.

V&A East will open at East Bank in 2025.