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Poster for Bass Culture exhibition

The long journey of mapping black British music

Mykaell Riley has spent his academic life mapping Black British music, working to define and explore its historical and cultural significance, for past, present and future generations.

As senior lecturer and principal investigator for Bass Culture Research at the University of Westminster, Riley has worked tirelessly in response to the disengagement and lack of education surrounding the heritage of Jamaican and Jamaican-influenced music in Britain over the last six decades, producing the first major study of the history and impact of Jamaican influenced music in the UK.

Locating, capturing and preserving memories, experiences and ephemera from three generations of musicians, music industry participants, and audience members, the work focused on London’s black community and the overlooked impact of their contributions to British popular music and, more broadly, to the British way of life.

Now, through his role as director of the Black Music Research Unit (BMRU), Riley is partnering with the British Library to expand his work and the unit into a national archive, to engage with the music industry and broader public in a national conversation on black British identity through the medium of music, culminating in a ground-breaking exhibition in collaboration with the National Sound Archive.

Here, he tells MAG about uncovering overlooked narratives, the importance of accessible data and rethinking Black music contributions to British history, culture and popular music in light of this new collaboration.

In the first week, our queue rivalled Madame Tussauds, opposite our Marylebone campus, so much so that people started crossing the street to our venue thinking they were in the wrong queue!