70-50 Bass Culture, a four week long exhibition at the University of Westminster, pays testament to the monumental impact that Jamaica has had on the British music scene. As a fan of reggae, drum & bass, jungle, and basically all Jamaican inspired music genres, being invited to cover the opening of 70-50 Bass Culture seemed like an opportunity I just couldn’t refuse. Celebrating the impact of the Windrush generation on British music, 70-50 Bass Culture marks 70 years since the arrival of Jamaican nationals on the Empire Windrush and 50 years since Jamaican music was introduced in Kingston. Hosting a celebration of Jamaican culture seems long overdue, especially since the surfacing of the Windrush scandal earlier this year. The event organiser, Mykaell Riley, even pointed out that it was the “first exhibition of its type by an academic institution”, which really shows that the Jamaican influence over British culture does not get the recognition it deserves.
When I was making my way to the exhibition, I was honestly a bit confused about where I was going. It felt like I was entering a warehouse depot and following a road built for lorries, but the decision to set the exhibition in such a building made sense when I finally got there. It’s a bit of a shock how open the space feels when you enter the exhibition. You’re faced with a vast, empty hall, with sporadic pieces of art hung on the walls and lighting set to the colour of Jamaica’s flag cast against them. I assumed that the enormity of the building was to reflect the major impact Jamaica has had on British culture, but the open space made much more sense when the ticket-holders came in and gradually filled it up. When the music kicked in it felt like I was at a gig, stood in a crowd of like-minded people dancing to reggae.
The theme of Jamaica’s under-appreciated impact is well expressed in the first photographic collection on display. Sharon Douglas’ “Sisters in Sound” presents several photographs of female Jamaican DJs who “are unknown, despite in some instances having operated for over 30 years in the sector”. The women photographed were pioneers in the Jamaican music scene and I found it saddening to think that they remain unheard of. But the poignancy of this piece was somewhat countered by the curator’s decision to place them at the forefront of the exhibition as the first thing all attendees will see, which really gives them the recognition they deserve.
Further into the exhibition reveals a second room which hosts a range of photographs mostly taken by Adrian Boot. His photography has been split into six sections of “bass culture”: Sounds, which explores the genres and technology of Jamaican music; People, which celebrates key contributors to Jamaican sub-genres of music; Culture, which recognises all the places and events which have contributed to the new identities in art and music; Society, which presents the communities that have helped transform Britain’s music; Business, which shows an insight in pursuing music professionally; and preservation, which seeks to “preserve” Jamaican culture and allow Jamaicans to tell their own stories.
Adrian Boot’s collection is powerful in the way it captures a rare insight into the Jamaican music scene, exposing us to Jamaican culture in a way we’ve likely never seen before. As a fan of both photography and Jamaican music, seeing the two so wonderfully combined really made an impact on me and showed me a different perspective to Jamaican culture. But most powerful of all was seeing the Jamaican attendees of the event, some of which were DJs themselves, really connect with the exhibition- I spoke to three women who found themselves in a photograph which they didn’t even know was on display!
The exhibition lasts for four weeks and I firmly encourage you all to check it out. Whether you’re a fan of photography, Jamaican music, or both, the exhibition shows the talent of both the photographers incorporated and the artists on display, and celebrates the truly magnificent impact Jamaican culture has had on British music for the last fifty years.