The first of its kind, the documentary features extensive commentary on the evolution of the Afrobeats genre across Nigeria and Ghana.
Try making a mental note of groceries you have to buy while out shopping. Go to class all semester without taking any notes for exams and tests. Take an important number without putting it down somewhere. We’ve all done at least one of these in the past, so the concept of recording information to use later is not foreign to us.
Documentation helps maintain the fabric of time because without it information is liable to be twisted, misused, or even lost. We are prone to forgetfulness in this era of extreme short-termism and easy distractions, setting us up to lose a grasp of our culture and the things that really matter. Even for research purposes, documentation helps us have easy access to information that expands our knowledge on important topics.
Netflix recently released a documentary, Afrobeats: The Backstory, the first Nigerian documentary out on its platform. Created by Ayo Shonaiya, the documentary features extensive commentary on the evolution of the Afrobeats genre across Nigeria and Ghana. Several personalities, alive and late, made an appearance to give more perspective and insight into how our beloved genre evolved to where it is today.
Shonaiya’s 12-part series featured different aspects of Afrobeats’ growth from the year 1999. Starting from the formation of the early boy bands and advancement in production, the genre enjoyed a fast rise across all fronts like fashion, visuals and sound — maintaining an image so iconic that it broke into mainstream music in the mid-2010s. The genre also birthed trailblazers who continue to set new records in places there previously were none.
Listening to several (sometimes forgotten) legends invoked an almost-tangible nostalgia, one that takes us back to simpler times. The way the series is scripted leads us to understand not only what happened but how and even why. We understand the origins of sounds, the come-up stories of our finest exports, and even the people behind the scene that helped bring the genre’s magic to life.
The documentary left a positive impression on me. It made me realize how many people have been involved in our growth and how ultimately the most important thing to do is uphold the community. Nobody else can protect our culture more than we can, and Ayo Shoniaya’s efforts will make us remember what it means to be African. Bringing this to life from scratch is a monumental effort and it's a big achievement for all those involved.
It received a rave reception in mainstream media, in Nigeria and across the world. Afrobeats: The Backstory gives a new perspective to everyone witnessing the genre’s explosion here and in the diaspora. Afrobeats is now revered by citizens of the world as it should be, and as its originators, we need to promote, preserve and protect it from misinterpretations and misleading origin stories.
Over the years Nigeria’s pop culture scene has been accused of never keeping accurate records of its people and events. Ayo Shonaiya proves that there is a record of important parts of our history, and even though there has been an issue with how the records have been used, Shonaiya is taking a step in putting things right. Afrobeats: The Backstory highlights the importance of documentation for several reasons, and now our history is properly put together for the entire world to see.