Netflix Premiers Pilot Episode of Ayo Shonaiya’s ‘Afrobeats: The Backstory’

An in-depth look into the makings of Nigerian pop

The accolades usually accorded to Nigerian pop, regularly referred to as Afrobeats, today is not an overnight phenomenom. It’s been a consistent journey from as early as the sixties, moving through reiterations and eras, till what is recognised nowadays. Among custodians of the culture, those who live and breathe it, there has been the growing relevance to conceptualise Afrobeats—to solidify the genre’s future prospects by understanding its history. 

Just some days back Tems was winning two BET awards, while Fireboy DML performed on the main stage of the ceremony. Burna Boy is serenading audiences across Europe and Wizkid is holding it down for the young superstars like Rema and BNXN, popping up on their stages. Away from the mainstream, there’s no small number of artists breaking the norm by wildly experimenting with their sound. New trends are being adapted and rejigged–it’s a bubbling scene. That’s the premium motivation for stating and controlling the narrative, especially through the inclusive medium of film.


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It was made known sometime last year that filmmaker and veteran music executive Ayo Shonaiya was producing a documentary for Netflix. ‘Afrobeats: The Backstory’ featured an elite lineup of appearances, helmed by a fine mix of foundational figures and contemporary players. It stoked great anticipation across music circles, and also for the less obvious reason of being the streaming giant’s novel music documentary in Nigeria. 

Viewers will have to wait no longer, as the pilot episode was released yesterday, the 29th of June. Scripted in twelve episodes, the documentary series will feature footage from about 20 years ago. Key industry figures like Kenny Ogungbe, Dayo ‘D1’ Adeneye and Paul Play Dairo are some of the interviewees for this episode. In line with the experiental vision of the producer, a playlist comprising classics and new school jams will accompany each episode. 

In the coming episodes, followers of the series will be privy to intimate details of the scene’s formation. Right from its sonic roots (the 5 Beat pattern) to the influence of the UK/US diaspora and how music videos changed the game, it’s  scripted with purpose and from credible angles. The penultimate episode contains an exclusive interview with Tony Allen, who discusses the origin of the Afrobeat term and who added the famous ‘s’. 

As a music fan caught in the whirlpool of many releases, you’re likely to miss out on a bunch of things. This documentary shouldn’t be one of those. Even though it’s a solid proof reference for the genre, Afrobeats is a movement famously peppered with anecdotes and you’re quite sure of having a good time with it. Don’t take my word for it though; go see the thing.

You can watch ‘Afrobeats: The Backstory’ here.