A new 12-part docuseries on Afrobeats is due to air on Netflix on 27 May. The Ayo Shonaiya-produced series, titled Afrobeats: The Backstory, premiered in April 2021 at the Filmhouse Cinema in Lagos, Nigeria. Featuring unreleased footage recorded over a period of 20 years, the project chronicles the origin and development of the genre through the eyes of well-known Nigerian entertainers and music professionals.
Afrobeats is prominent in West African countries like Nigeria and Ghana, and draws on traditional African sounds like highlife, fusing it with Western genres including hip hop, R&B and electronic music.
“When I was called into music in 1999, I took my camera along with me for the journey, not knowing that I was documenting the birth of what we call Afrobeats today, Shonaiya said. “This is a story of my work in the music industry and business over 20 years, with never-before-seen footage of how we built this genre and industry into what it is today.”
Speaking to Punch(link is external) last year, the filmmaker, who has managed Afrobeats musicians like D’Banj, eLDee and Don Jazzy, said the work “is about the sound of this new popular music – its origins from highlife and Afrobeat; from Fela to Ghana, to the UK and to the world. Through my research for the documentary, I explored the link between the old Afrobeat and the new Afrobeats.”
“This project, although 20 years in the making, took me two years to complete. It is coming out at a time when we are now winning Grammys. I must say this though, making a documentary instead of a feature film was also a strategy for me, as we do more entertaining than educating in Nigeria nowadays, so this is a mixture of both. It is like a history lesson with a musical soundtrack,” Shonaiya said.
Afrobeats is enjoying growing global attention thanks to the works of Nigerian musicians like Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Davido, Burna Boy and CKay. In March, popular Afrobeats festival brand Afro Nation partnered with Billboard to launch the Billboard US Afrobeats Songs chart, which ranks the top 50 songs in the genre in the US. Two years prior to that, Afro Nation initiated the weekly Official Afrobeats Chart on BBC Radio 1Xtra.