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V&A East Museum is set to unveil its inaugural exhibition, titled The Music Is Black: A British Story, which will take place at V&A East Museum on East Bank in 2025. This exhibition aims to shed light on how Black British music has significantly influenced British culture and captures a narrative of "excellence, resilience, struggle, and joy", dubbed "a wonderful example of how East Bank is helping us to build a better London for everyone” by Sadiq Khan.

Spanning from 1900 to the present day, The Music Is Black: A British Story will commemorate 125 years of Black music in Britain, from the lively scenes of Carnival and club nights to the inner workings of recording studios, record shops, MC battles, and festivals, including twentienth century pioneers from Sampha to Little Simz, Tems, Jorja Smith, Ezra Collective and more. Partnering with the BBC, Sadlers Wells East, UAL's London College of Fashion, and UCL East, V&A East will bring the themes of the exhibition to life across Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and beyond through a series of special activities, events, displays, and live performances.

Drawing in particular from the rich BBC Archive, the exhibition will feature a soundtrack spanning generations and a captivating set design. It will give visitors a chance to hear directly from music creators, both those in the spotlight and those working behind the scenes, bringing the story to life. The exhibition will highlight early pioneers such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Winifred Atwell, Emile Ford, and Janet Kay. It will also spotlight international music icons like Joan Armatrading, Eddy Grant, Sade, Soul II Soul, Seal, Fabio & Grooverider, Goldie, Massive Attack, and Tricky.

Dennis Morris, 'Aces Club, Count Shelly Sound System, Hackney’, 1974 (photographed), 2010 (printed). Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The exhibition will leverage V&A's extensive archive of performances in Britain and around the world, building on its successful history of creating immersive performance exhibitions like "David Bowie Is..." (2013), "Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains" (2017), and "DIVA" (2023). Through a blend of never-before-seen major acquisitions and international loans, the exhibition will showcase immersive audiovisual experiences, large-scale installations, and iconic musical instruments, equipment, and personal belongings of some of the most groundbreaking music-makers of the past century. It will aim to delve into the social, historical, and cultural context that shaped Black music in Britain, giving rise to the UK's most innovative musical genres, from Brit Funk to Lovers Rock, 2 Tone, Jungle, Ragga, Drum & Bass, Trip Hop, UK Garage, Grime, and beyond. An array of art forms, including paintings, prints, playbills, posters, sculptures, TV, fashion, textiles, photography, and film, will contribute to a comprehensive narrative of Black British music and its cultural impact beyond the realm of sound.

Cover image: Normski, 'She Rockers (London RapDance Crew), Shepherd's Bush Green, London', 1988, C-type print, printed 2011, © Normski. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum


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