I had, circa 2019 when I started reading E. B. White’s and William Strunk’s Elements of Style, acquired a fancy for ogling sentences. Its cadence, epiphany, and wit. A measured withdrawal from my environment; a smile followed by an ad-lib shout: Chai, see sentence na! — I gradually became a collector of sentences. Aside from the English and African classics: William Shakespeare’s, Chinua Achebe’s, Franz Kafka’s, and Walter Rodney’s, stacked in my room, there are colourful stickers spread in a criss-cross pattern on my room’s wall. Yellow, red, and green stickers bearing the bloom of each sentence and a subtle clue of my obsession with its writers.
Heather Havrilesky’s “clause” is one of such: “Marriage requires amnesia…” The clause was abridged from a sentence in an essay whose title is now a fog on my mind. Those words, with amnesia as its vanguard, keep coming to the fore while watching Ayo Shonaiya’s documentary: Afrobeats: The Backstory. The faces (Kehinde Ogungbe Baba Keke, Dayo Adeneye D1, and Obi Asika) had long shared an affinity with oblivion; music whose lyrics still echo the Nigerian social reality (Eedris Abdulkareem’s Nigeria Ja ga Ja ga and Trybesmen’s Plenty Nonsense); the rusty but pristine beats that invite you to “gbe body”, equal Nicodemus, made squeaky-clean by Ayo Shonaiya’s close-up shot documentary.
Nigeria is shrouded in a loop of chaos: a massacre is a familiar soundtrack; education had long taken a sloppy route; healthcare in Nigeria is a hermitage of death. The bedlam culminate when teaching History was removed from the curriculum over trivialities — a subtle shamble scheme. Students apathy toward it. The paucity of History teachers. This misnomer is a measured move to nourish Nigerians to saturation with amnesia. 1, October 1960, will soon become just a date — June 12 is towing that pathway. The totem of freedom and democracy it displays is shrouded in mystery for the social media generation youth (otherwise known as Gen Z).
With a focus on the trajectory of Afrobeats, Ayo Shonaiya’s documentary is providing malnutrition for the truckload of amnesia in Afrobeats history. A climax of ignorance permeates the media spaces. The 12-episodes ( 39-44 minutes each) documentary will deny Marlians, Wizkid Fc, 30 BG, the Ravers, and other covens, an opportunity to move through Twitter offering bland comments on historically-related musicals issues. Rather than a cult of viewers (Music historians, music critics ) for the documentary, a promotional post from the new generation musical icons: Davido, Zlatan, Joeboy will compel their fanbase to see the documentary— A screentime with their idols while a semblance of comprehension sledges their mind gradually.
The entertainment industry is layered and surrounded by variant industries just Afrobeat is infused with a repository of beats. Dancing, styling, DJing, Distribution company (Alaba International), and Videographer( Dj Tee) are spotlighted with a hint at their pioneer. An interesting part of the documentary is the occasional display of facts (“Regardless of its birthplace, origin or foundation, Afrobeat and Afrobeats are both from the same lineage of Nigerian and Ghanian roots; “Oya” is the first music video to be ban in Nigeria; it was also the first twerking video”) And Simi’s thoughtful insights to the Afrobeat and Afrobeats enigma: “Afrobeat is the father of Afrobeats.” The subtle premonition that besieges P-Square’s words in an interview with DJ Abass: “Peter and Paul dem b one no be two.” The anger of Seun Kuti: “People have to realize that Afrobeat has caused us a house, a grandmother (Mrs Fumilayo Ransome-Kuti), lives, blood, broken legs, broken limbs.” It was still Seun Kuti that spotlighted Afrobeat as an artistic movement, not as a business medium but as “created to be a voice for the African people… Challenging them to their revolutionary duty.”
The documentary has an obsession with monotonous posture
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A cliche posture: A spotlighted face is asked a question. In a close-up shot interview format, an answer is provided. The shots usually lack the variance and rhythm of a feature film — the movements. Unlike a feature film, a documentary is a truckload of still images that lacks spontaneity. Ayo Shonaiya’s documentary eschewed the conventional monotonous shots of a documentary. And in recognition of the documentary’s subject: the history of Afrobeats, he ( Ayo Shonaiya as the editor) occasionally detours by providing amateurish videos of songs and events which pose as visual evidence of the spoken words of a spotlight guest— the drudgery of seeing the documentary for some time of 5-hours is lessen.
Episode 11 is titled: “Afrobeat & Afrobeats, History & Present.”It started with an interview with Ayo Sadare (Jazz promoter/Historian) and span over to other historical icons: Tony Allen (Legendary Afrobeat drummer), Benson Idonije (Fela’s first manager), and Teddy Osei (Musician/Osibisa). Rather than interviewees becoming historians, which they are, armed with the historical script of the trajectory of Afrobeat and its evolution to Afrobeats, they became voice-over artists vocalizing the scripts written by Ayo Shonaiya and The Jide Taiwo. At some point, it won’t be a misnomer to call the documentary Ayo Shonaiya’s history of Afrobeats. The pipper dictates the tune of the pipe.
The mind is a compartment of memories: names, faces, gazes, laughs. Each residue from history is carefully stuck in an SD card. My mind bears no affinity for holding debris of memories. Names, faces, and memories quickly dissolve into oblivion in nano-seconds. A gun placed to my head, I will barely mention two songs, media organization, distribution company, and faces the documentary spoliated. Aside from the familiar Zlatan, Davido, Sound Sultan, Ayo Shonaiya ( the director), and Jide Taiwo (who wrote “The Most Important Nigerian Songs Since 1999 that lay fallow on my digital library and co-write Afrobeats: The Backstory with Ayo), I will need access to Netflix before I can recollect DJ Tee, Obi Asika, Dayo D1 Adeneye, Kenny Ogungbe (Baba Keke) faces and impact on Afrobeats. But, despite this challenge that might face viewers, retaining names that set the Afrobeats trajectory, Ayo’s documentary has created an archive.