SOAS University of London

New exhibition on Windrush Generation and Jamaican music’s influence on British identity

6 November 2018

Dr Caspar Melville, Lecturer in Global Creative and Cultural Industries, has contributed to a major new exhibition exploring the impact of Jamaican music on Britain.

The ‘Bass Culture 70/50’ exhibition at the University of Westminster’s Ambika P3 Gallery in Baker Street, marks seventy years since the arrival of the HMT Windrush beginning Caribbean migration to the UK, and fifty years since the term “reggae” was first coined. The exhibition features a range of multimedia materials, from Adrian Boot’s original photographs to specially commissioned paintings, filmed interviews, a pop-up reggae shop and a documentary film. It documents the huge impact of Jamaican genres like ska, reggae, dub and dancehall on the development of British music, from inspiring new genres like Jungle and Grime to the pop music of The Specials, The Police, Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen.

Bass Expo

Above: Linton Kwesi Johnson and Darcus Howe in the Race Today Office, Brixton © Adrian Boot

The UK’s biggest ever exhibition devoted to Jamaican music tells the story of the development of sound system culture, how reggae and Rastafarianism became a voice for political resistance and inspired Punk and the way in which a distinct Black British musical culture emerged in multicultural British cities. Contributors to the exhibition include Benjamin Zephaniah, Steel Pulse, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Sir Lloyd Coxsone, Don Letts, Paul Gilroy, Blacker Dread, Carroll Thompson and Janet Kay.

Dr Melville said: “Although reggae has been a huge influence on British musical and cultural life it has never received the recognition it deserves: you can see the damage of this kind of historical amnesia in the recent Windrush scandal with the state refusing to recognise the huge value that migration can bring. This is not just black British history, it’s British history. Everyone should see this exhibition. It’s a great place to bring classes, my students loved it”

In addition to the permanent exhibition Ambika P3 will host a series of special events including a “Rudeboy Catwalk” (Friday 9 November) showcasing reggae style and fashion, “Lovers and Punks”, a discussion of the reggae-punk crossover (Friday 16 November) and the world premiere of the Bass Culture documentary made by the young producers Fully Focussed (Thursday 22 November). More details and free tickets here.

“Bass Culture 70/50” is free and open to the public until 22 November at Ambika-P3, 35 Marylebone Road NW1 5LS. Open times: Tues- Fri – 12-7, Sat- Sun – 12-6 (Closed Monday).

“Bass Culture 70/50” is staged by the University of Westminster in partnership with SOAS, the AHRC, Black Cultural Archives, British Library, Goldsmiths University, UrbanImage, Camera Press and Fully Focused. The exhibition is an output of the Bass Culture project, a 3-year AHRC funded project looking at the impact of Jamaican music on the UK over 6 decades, led by Mykaell Riley at the University of Westminster. Dr Melville is a researcher on the project along with Professor Les Back from Goldsmiths and the journalist and educator Jacqueline Springer. Other outputs include a documentary film, 100 recorded interviews which will be housed in the British Library and two academic publications scheduled for publication in 2019.