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  • Beyond the Bassline (26 April – 26 August 2024) is the first major exhibition to document 500 years of Black music in Britain
  • Events with Joan Armatrading, Eddy Grant and No Signal confirmed with more to be revealed
  • New works by Touching Bass, Jukebox Collective, Rastafari Movement UK Wellbeing, Friendly Pressure and Khadijah Ibrahiim explore music as a vehicle for community

 

Beyond the Bassline (26 April – 26 August 2024) at the British Library is the first major exhibition to document the 500-year musical journey of African and Caribbean people in Britain. Inspired by the British Library's sound archive, the exhibition explores the people, spaces and genres that have transformed the landscape of British music.

Traversing musical genres, from classical, gospel and jazz through to reggae, jungle and afroswing, Beyond the Bassline charts the influence of Black British musicians, creatives and entrepreneurs on popular music since the 16th-century. It also considers the role emerging technologies and the internet have played in creating, listening to and sharing music.

The exhibition spotlights the spaces – physical, digital and symbolic – that have cultivated creative expression and inspired a number of Black British music genres, from The Reno in Manchester, Bristol's Bamboo Club, Scottish club night The Reggae Klub and The Four Aces in London, to carnivals, community centres and record shops across the country.

 

Encompassing more than 200 exhibits, Beyond the Bassline features:

  • Audiovisual material, from interviews with activist Amy Ashwood Garvey, calypsonian Lord Kitchener and musician Fela Kuti to performances by singer Shirley Bassey, pianist Winifred Atwell and saxophonist Joe Harriott, and footage from the MOBO Awards and BBC One's Top of the Pops
  • Ephemera and memorabilia including a t-shirt from the Reggae Klub, one of the earliest reggae nights in Scotland, posters, signs and photographs from the Bamboo club in Bristol and The Four Aces in London, and objects retrieved from the demolished basement of The Reno in Manchester
  • Costumes, including a dress worn by Patti Flynn, co-founder of the Butetown Bay Jazz Heritage Festival and the Black History Month movement in Wales, on her 1970s tour
  • Visual art including The Lion of Judah Roars in his Head (1977) by Errol Lloyd, Night Owls (1995) by Denzil Forrester, Sounds Yellow (2009) by Sir Frank Bowling and imagery documenting the evolution of grime by acclaimed photographer Simon Wheatley
  • Musical instruments including a double bass belonging to Gary Crosby, founding member of Jazz Warriors and a 1950s steelpan on loan from the Horniman Museum
  • Equipment including Ludwig van Beethoven's tuning fork, which he presented to violinist George Bridgetower in 1803, sound engineer King Tubby's Hometown Hi-Found and Mighty Ruler's 1960s sound systems, plus a Sony Walkman WM B-10, Telepathy Tape Pack and Nokia 3310
  • Manuscripts and books including a handwritten letter by 19th century opera singer Amanda Aldridge, also known as Montague Ring and published letters by 18th century composer Ignatius Sancho

 

To accompany Beyond the Bassline there will be a rich programme of public events, including live performances, club takeovers by No Signal (26 April), Touching Bass (3 May and 12 July) and Queer Bruk (21 June), as well as in conversation events with eminent singer-songwriters Eddy Grant (26 April) and Joan Armatrading (18 June), with more to be revealed.

Visitors to Beyond the Bassline will also get to see a new, specially commissioned film. iwoyi: within the echo (2024) is a five-channel 10-minute film and sound installation exploring the radical potential of Black British music to manifest reparative futures. Directed by Tayo Rapoport and Rohan Ayinde in collaboration with the South London-based musical movement and curatorial platform Touching Bass, the film is produced by NOIR and has an original score made by Melo-Zed.

New soundscapes, artworks and films exploring Black British identity through the medium of music feature throughout the exhibition and have been created by community-rooted, youth-led group Jukebox Collective, charitable enterprise and network Rastafari Movement UK Wellbeing, bespoke loudspeaker system Friendly Pressure and literary activist, theatre maker and published writer, Khadijah Ibrahiim.

Curated by Dr Aleema Gray at the British Library in collaboration with Mykaell Riley at the University of Westminster, Beyond the Bassline follows a three-year partnership to research, foreground and reposition six centuries of African musical contributions to the UK.

Dr Aleema Gray, lead curator of Beyond the Bassline at the British Library, said: 'The exhibition represents a timely opportunity to broaden our understanding of Black British music and situate it within a historical conversation. Black British music is more than a soundtrack. It has formed part of an expansive cultural industry that transformed British culture.'

Associate Professor Mykaell Riley, guest curator of Beyond the Bassline at the British Library and Director of The Black Music Research Unit at the University of Westminster, said: 'This is British history, this is popular music. And the exhibition is not an end point but the beginning of a new positioning of Black British music, within academic research and high art spaces.'

There will be panel displays and events at public libraries across the UK, arranged through the Living Knowledge Network, with each library's collection, regional connections and local music scene at the core, to help tell a national story about Black music in Britain.

Beyond the Bassline tickets are on general sale from today (beyondthebassline.seetickets.com/) and cost £15 with concessions available. There will be Pay What You Can days on the first Wednesday of every month.

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25 Apr 2024

  • Spotify talks growth, bundle royalties and short-video plans (see Digital)

24 Apr 2024

  • BPI CEO calls on music industry and government to unite around 5 key priorities to support human artistry and sustainably promote British music (see News)

23 Apr 2024

  • Hipgnosis Song Management fires back at Songs Fund board (see Business)

22 Apr 2024

  • Blackstone bid for Hipgnosis receives backing from board (see Business)

  • Taylor Swift’s new album breaks Spotify records (see News)

  • Independence - what’s up with that BPI press release about 2023 music consumption? (see Comment)

19 Apr 2024

  • Creator Remuneration Working Group meet for the first time (see News)

  • Concord's takeover of Hipgnosis (see Analysis)

18 Apr 2024

  • Concord set to acquire Hipgnosis Songs Fund (see Business)

17 Apr 2024

  • Is the music industry gaslighting artists? (see Comment)

16 Apr 2024

  • BPI’s new Yearbook highlights an independent sector growing for a sixth consecutive year (see Reports)

  • Can’t cross the moat? Walk around it. (see Comment)

15 Apr 2024

  • The conversation around Fandom needs to change (see Opinion)

  • Viagogo: Carrying on ticketing, despite the controversy (see News)

12 Apr 2024

  • Taylor Swift songs return to TikTok (see Digital)

  • Spotify plans new remixing tools for the TikTok generation (see Digital)

  • Is Spotify plotting a largescale push into short-form video? (see Digital)