Google Arts and Culture and YouTube’s Union Black: Sounds of Nation, is a new multi-platform online experience that celebrates the rich history and vibrant culture of Black British music, and the impact it has had on the UK and beyond. The project was developed in collaboration with 25 cultural organisations ranging from the Black Cultural Archives and the Horniman Museum to Power Up, Trench and Notting Hill Carnival, as well as artists, producers and content creators from the Black British music community.
The project breathes life into a rich, but often unexplored history. From the origin stories of trailblazers to the trajectory of future leaders, everyone can delve into the pioneers, movements and history that make British music what it is today. Audiences can access 2000+ images and videos, 200+ multimedia stories curated by cultural partners across the UK, and 10+ new audio and video content pieces produced by content creators and artists on YouTube.
Black culture has had a profound impact on British music for centuries. From the earliest days of jazz to the latest grime and drill, Black British artists have pushed the boundaries of what is possible in music. All commentators agree Black British music is not afraid to challenge the status quo, and it is this willingness to take risks that has made it such a vital part of British culture.
Key Exhibition chapters
The five key chapters that make up Union Black: Sounds of a Nation.
- Game Changers: meet the pioneers and innovators
The first chapter recognises some of the pioneers and innovators who helped shape the landscape of music, both in the UK and abroad: from musical icons to the talent of today, from industry leaders to community trailblazers. The exhibition also look at the role of pioneering platforms, technology and invite people to explore influential movements of Black British Music, from UK Hip Hop and Grime to Garage and Lover’s Rock.
- We Run Tings: the impact of Black British Music. Exploring the movements that blossomed from the melting pot of Black Britain, this chapter documents some of the musicians, music and cultures who have emerged from Black communities and etched themselves on the national and global landscape. From Black women in music, the intersection of music and style to the influence of cities such as Birmginham and Liverpool.
- Mixing, Migrating and Music: creating influential music genres. Looking at the social and cultural communities and migrations that have powered the creation of influential music, genres and cultures, this section turns focus to the cultural and social climate that birthed them. The third chapter takes a look at migration music, Black sounds from the 1930’s, the roots of Reggae, Dub music in London and beyond. Highlights also include a panel discussion about the influence of Hip-Hop in the UK on music and culture, and Ode to Home, an audio documentary which delves into the influence of ‘home’ on prominent Black British UK artists’ music.
- Express Yourself: how music drives social change. Express Yourself shines a spotlight on pioneering music, cultural movements that have driven social and political change. From podcasts exploring the ‘restriction’ of Black expression across the live space and airwaves to Form 696, celebrations of Black culture in the queer community and Carnival.
- Today and Tomorrow: Exploring the future of Black British music. Finally, Today and Tomorrow invites viewers to cast a gaze at the landscape as it exists today. What does Black British Music look like in 2023 and beyond? Hear about Merky’s empowerment of Black Britain, read about artists who have been thriving in spaces of alternative Black British music and celebrate future leaders, artists from the LGBTQI+ community, young jazz musicians and organisations advocating for change.
Black British music and culture has broken down barriers, sparked conversations, and given a voice to the voiceless. It's a testament to the power of creativity and the human spirit and this is what Union Black wants to honour and celebrate. This online exhibition is a space for exploration, discovery and reflection, and it's a celebration of the power of music to unite us all.