Finally, Ayo Shonaiya’s landmark documentary film on the evolution of Nigeria’s contemporary hip music genre – Afrobeats – is set for premiere come Friday, April 2 at the Filmhouse Cinemas, Imax Theatre in Lekki, Lagos.
Titled Afrobeats: The Backstory, the six-part project chronicles the history and the leading names of one of the most dynamic music genres to emerge from Africa.
From Shonaiya’s personal collection of rare footage that he has kept for 20 years and extensive interviews with scores of the big names across three continents in the music industry, the film follows the journey from its earliest form to the global phenomenon it has now become.
“I have been pre-producing this documentary for two decades,” Shonaiya said.
An authority in the music business with years of experience particularly in artiste management, Shonaiya may indeed be one of the most-qualified to tell this important story.
“My main aim for the documentary is to tell that story from where the music came from, from Lagos to Accra, to London, then back to Lagos before it blew up to what it is today, with over 200 hours of my own recorded footage over 20 years, mostly never been seen before clips of today’s biggest stars from their early days till now, mixed with current interviews and lots of industry heads telling their parts of the story with me,” he said.
Trained as a filmmaker in the United States and qualified as a lawyer in the UK and Nigeria, Shonaiya started out in the music business as the international manager to Fuji music maestro, Wasiu Ayinde (K1) and went on to discover and manage the careers of some of the biggest names in the Nigerian music industry, including D’banj, Don Jazzy, Eldee the Don and Sarz.
“This project took him two years to complete, 147 interviews in eight countries, plus my archive footage from 20 years when he started filming for this.
“This is his work in the music business, and also the story of this dynamic genre we call “Afrobeats”. The pioneers, the OGs, the background people, the artistes on stage, in the studio, the music video directors, the DJs, the dancers, the stylists, the managers, from Lagos to Accra to London to Atlanta, to the world!
“This is the backstory of the entire industry that we all built to Grammy winning level!” says DJ Abbas, the London-based long-time friend and partner of Shonaiya.
With Abass and a couple of other associates, Shonaiya was one of the earliest content creators who gave London’s BEN Television a big boost between 2003 and 2006. He was also the driving force behind the Nigerian/Lagos Corner at the annual Nottinghill Carnival in London.
His second feature film, King Of My Country, in which he starred and directed in 1997 contributed to establishing the needed bridge between the UK Black diaspora and Nigeria’s emerging digital video market at the time.
His latest documentary is timely, coming at a time when the Grammy academy has finally acknowledged Nigeria’s contributions to the global hip hop culture.