V&A East announces ‘The Music Is Black: A British Story’, its first major exhibition

London’s V&A East to examine the cultural impact of Black British music with its inaugural exhibition in 2025

The band Hi-Tension from V&A East exhibition on Black British music
Adrian Boot, ‘Hi-Tension’, 1979
(Image credit: © Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv)

A deep dive into Black British music is set to be the focus for V&A East, which has announced its inaugural exhibition. ‘The Music Is Black: A British Story’, due to open in 2025 at the museum, at East Bank at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, is being produced in collaboration with the BBC, Sadlers Wells East, UAL’s London College of Fashion, and UCL East, and promises an immersive look into 125 years of Black music.

Genres from jazz to reggae, two-tone, drum & bass, trip hop, UK garage and grime will be explored, alongside early adopters including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Winifred Atwell and Emile Ford through to more established artists such as Joan Armatrading, Eddy Grant, Sade, Soul II Soul, Seal, Fabio & Grooverider, Goldie, Massive Attack and Tricky. Today’s artists, from Ezra Collective to Nubya Garcia, Shabaka Hutchings, Kano, Little Simz and Jorja Smith, will also be included.

The impact of Black British music explored

V&A East exhibition imagery

Chelone Wolf, ‘Fabio and Grooverider’ 

(Image credit: © Chelone Wolf)

As well as focusing on the artists, the exhibition will consider the role Black music has played in defining British culture, placing it in a social and historical context. Says the show’s curator Jacqueline Springer, 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.' 

V&A exhibition imagery

Jennie Baptiste, ‘Estelle & Ty’, Brixton, London, 2003

(Image credit: © Jennie Baptiste. Stylist Myriam Djelliou, Make-up artist Brenda Cuffy)

'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,' she adds.

‘The Music Is Black: A British Story’ opens at V&A East Museum, London, in 2025. Meanwhile, the British Library in London is also celebrating the genre with ‘Beyond the Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music’, 26 April – 26 August 2024. 


V&A exhibition imagery

Adrian Boot, ‘Tricky’, 2006
© Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv

(Image credit: The Music Is Black: A British Story opens at V&A East Museum, London in 2025)

V&A exhibition imagery

Adrian Boot, ‘Linton Kwesi Johnson and Darkus Howe at the Race Today office on Railton Road Brixton’, 1979
© Adrian Boot, urbanimage.tv

(Image credit: The Music Is Black: A British Story opens at V&A East Museum, London in 2025)

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.