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British Library to track 600 years of Black British music for new exhibition

Six centuries of Black British music will be examined ahead of the gallery's opening in 2024

By Nick Reilly

A man plays guitar
The new exhibition will chart 600 years of Black British music (Picture: Pexels)

The British Library has announced details of a major research project and exhibition which charts the history of Black British music.

The institution will collaborate with the University of Westminster’s Black Music Research Unit to take an in-depth look at 600 years of African musical contributions to the UK, ahead of the exhibition’s opening in 2024.

It’s led by Mykaell Riley, director for The Black Music Research Unit and principal investigator for Bass Culture Research at the University of Westminster, who will build on the findings of his 2018 Bass Culture exhibition – which examined the impact of Jamaican and Jamaican-influenced music on British culture.

That exhibition marked the first significant study of the historic impact of Jamaican influenced music in the UK and saw researchers capturing a vast array of experiences from three generations of musicians, gig-goers and music industry figures.

It also shone a light on the contributions of Black Britons to popular music.

Riley said of the new project: “We cannot change the past, but we can use history to impact the present and influence the future. This exhibition will offer unique opportunities to explore the library’s vast collections and other public and private collections, alongside music industry data, allowing us to rethink black music contributions to British history, culture, and popular music.”

Janet Topp Fargion, Head of Sound and Vision at the British Library, added: “It is hugely important and exciting to be working with the Black Music Research Unit at the University of Westminster. The partnership will surface content within the British Library and in community collections across the country to ensure it is discoverable and accessible for everyone into the future.”

An official opening date for the exhibition is yet to be confirmed, but The British Library has already begun the task of researching the Library’s vast collections alongside the University of Westminster’s Black Music Research Unit.