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Black music has long played the tune of innovation, and fast-forward to 2025, V&A East will awaken these melodies through its inaugural exhibition The Music Is Black: A British Story. The landmark exhibition invites us to celebrate 125 years of Black British music, tracing its grassroots in local communities and following its journey to shaping British culture and global eminence.

The exhibition will plunge into the historical, social, and cultural backdrop that nurtured Black music in Britain, fostering the development of musical movements from ragga to grime. Echoing the sounds of bygone eras, a timeless soundtrack will course through the exhibition, spotlighting pioneers like Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and contemporary artists such as Little Simz. Beyond the scope of sound, playbills, sculptures, fashion, photography and film will collaboratively narrate the deep cultural resonance of Black British music and immerse visitors into the very soul of music creation.

Exploring the influence of international music genres such as West African jazz, calypso and reggae, the exhibition will probe into the ways these sounds were embraced and Anglicized by Black British artist to transform them into iconic genres such as Afrobeat’s, UK rap and dubstep. British musical giants from Fleetwood Mac to the Rolling Stones will be portrayed, reflecting their musical growth shaped by highlife, jazz, British folk, American blues and R&B. Via a line-up of events, displays and live performances, UAL’s London College of Fashion, the BBC, Sadlers wells East and UCL East will extend the reach of The Music Is Black: A British Story beyond the V&A museum, reaching across Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and its surroundings.

As expressed by Jacqueline Springer, Curator of The Music Is Black: A British Story and Curator of Africa and Diaspora Performance at the V&A: “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.”

Jenny Daphne Pitsillides

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