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Toto - Africa (1982)

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  • 80's score: 3.06

“Africa” is a song recorded by the American rock band Toto in 1981, for their fourth studio album Toto IV, and released as the album’s third single on September 30, 1982, through Columbia Records. The song was ...

“Africa” is a song recorded by the American rock band Toto in 1981, for their fourth studio album Toto IV, and released as the album’s third single on September 30, 1982, through Columbia Records. The song was written by band members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro.

Critics praised its composition and Toto’s performances. The song reached number one on the United States’ Billboard Hot 100 chart and is the band’s only Billboard number one. The song was at the top for a single week, the one ending February 5, 1983. “Africa” also peaked in the top ten in the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

The song was accompanied by a music video, which premiered in 1983, and was directed by Steve Barron, who collaborated previously with the group for “Rosanna”. The video features Toto in a library, as they perform and showcase various aspects of African culture. While popular in the 1980s and 1990s, with the song being certified gold by the RIAA in 1991, “Africa” saw a resurgence in popularity via social media during the mid- to late 2010s, including a fan-requested cover by American rock band Weezer which peaked at number 51 on the Billboard Hot 100. It has since been certified five times platinum.

Background

The initial idea and lyrics for the song came from David Paich. Paich was playing around with a new keyboard, the CS-80, and found the brassy sound that became the opening riff. He completed the melody and lyrics for the chorus in about ten minutes, much to Paich’s surprise. “I sang the chorus out as you hear it. It was like God channeling it. I thought, ‘I’m talented, but I’m not that talented. Something just happened here!'” Paich estimates that he refined the lyrics for six months before showing the song to the rest of the band.

In 2015, Paich explained that the song is about a man’s love of a continent, Africa, rather than just a personal romance. He based the lyrics on a late-night documentary with depictions of African plight and suffering. The viewing experience made a lasting impact on Paich: “It both moved and appalled me, and the pictures just wouldn’t leave my head. I tried to imagine how I’d feel about it if I was there and what I’d do.” Jeff Porcaro elaborates further, explaining: “A white boy is trying to write a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.”

Some additional lyrics relate to a person flying in to meet a lonely missionary, as Paich described in 2018. As a child, Paich attended a Catholic school; several of his teachers had done missionary work in Africa. Their missionary work became the inspiration behind the line: “I bless the rains down in Africa.” Paich, who at the time had never set foot in Africa, based the song’s landscape descriptions from an article in National Geographic.

During an appearance on the radio station KROQ-FM, Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather described the song as “dumb” and “an experiment” and some of the lyrics as “goofy” that were just placeholders, particularly the line about the Serengeti. Engineer Al Schmitt stated that “Africa” was the second song written for Toto IV and had been worked on extensively in the studio. According to Steve Porcaro, it was the last song they recorded and barely made the cut. At one point, Jeff Porcaro considered saving “Africa” for a solo album because some members did not think the song sounded like Toto. The band was more focused on the album’s lead single “Rosanna” instead.

Music video

The music video used the radio edit and was directed by Steve Barron. In the video, a researcher in a library (portrayed by band member David Paich) tries to match a scrap of a picture of a shield to the book from which it was torn out. As he continues his search, a librarian (backing singer Jenny Douglas-McRae) working at a nearby desk takes occasional notice of him, while a native in the surrounding jungle begins to close in on the library. When the researcher finds a book titled Africa, the native throws a spear at a bookshelf (the shield the native carries is the same as the one in the picture), toppling stacks of books. Africa falls open to the page from which the scrap was torn, but a lantern lands on it and sets it on fire, after which the librarian’s eyeglasses are shown falling to the floor. The scenes are intercut with shots of a spinning globe and the band performing atop a stack of giant hardcover books, in which Africa is the topmost.

This video also features Mike Porcaro on bass, replacing David Hungate, who had already left the band before the video was made. Lenny Castro is also featured in the video on percussion.