Africa (Toto song)
"Africa" is a song by the American rock band Toto. It was included on their fourth studio album Toto IV, and released as a single on September 30, 1982. It reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart on February 5, 1983 (The band's only number one there. Pfft. Philistines!), and number three on the UK Singles Chart the same month. The song was written and composed by the band members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro.
The song had a surprise revival in 2017, being named "The Internet’s Favorite Song" that year. In response to this resurgence and the repeated requests of a fan, the band Weezer recorded a cover version in 2018 that peaked at #51 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart. It was their version of saying, "Shut the fuck up already!"
The initial idea and words for the song came from David Paich. Jeff Porcaro explains the idea behind the song: "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."
“At the beginning of the '80s I watched a late night documentary on TV about all the terrible death and suffering of the people in Africa. It both moved and appalled me, and the pictures just wouldn't leave my head. I tried to imagine how I'd feel about if I was there and what I'd do.”
In 2015, Paich explained that the song is about a man's love of a continent, Africa, rather than just a personal romance, whatever the hell that means. In 2018, Paich explained the song is about a person flying in to meet a lonely missionary. As a child, Paich attended a Catholic school, before realizing that it's fucking boring as hell. Several of the teachers had done missionary work in Africa, and this became the inspiration behind the line "I bless the rains down in Africa."
Paich was playing around with a new keyboard and found the brassy sound that became the opening riff. He started humming a melody and by the chorus, the words just came to him.
Musically, the song took quite some time to assemble (unlike today's pop hits), as Paich and Porcaro explain:
“On "Africa" you hear a combination of marimba with GS 1. The kalimba is all done with the GS 1; it's six tracks of GS 1 playing different rhythms. I wrote the song on CS-80, so that plays the main part of the entire tune. If you don't know what the hell all these instruments are, Google is your friend.
So when we were doing "Africa" I set up a bass drum, snare drum and a hi-hat, and Lenny Castro set up right in front of me with a conga. We looked at each other and just started playing the basic groove. [...] The backbeat is on 3, so it's a half-time feel, and it's 16th notes on the hi-hat. Lenny started playing a conga pattern. We played for five minutes on tape, no click, no nothing. We just played. And I was singing the bass line for 'Africa' in my mind, so we had a relative tempo. Lenny and I went into the booth and listened back to the five minutes of that same boring pattern. We picked out the best two bars that we thought were grooving, and we marked those two bars on tape. [...] Maybe it would have taken two minutes to program that in the Linn, and it took about half an hour to do this. But a Linn machine doesn't feel like that!”
Porcaro also acknowledged that he was influenced by the sounds created by fellow Los Angeles session musicians Milt Holland and Emil Richards. He also described the influence of the drummers at the Africa pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair and a National Geographic Special. I was about 11 when the New York World's Fair took place, and I went to the African pavilion with my family. I saw the real thing ... It was the first time I witnessed somebody playing one beat and not straying from it, like a religious experience, where it gets loud, and everyone goes into a trance.
During an appearance on the radio station KROQ-FM, Porcaro and Steve Lukather described the song as "dumb" and "an experiment" and some of the lyrics as "goofy" that were just placeholders. The band was more focused on the album's lead single "Rosanna" instead. Their loss.
The music video 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 (Jenny Douglas-McRae) working at a nearby desk takes occasional notice of him, while natives in the surrounding jungle begin to close in on the library. When the researcher finds a book titled Africa, the native throws a spear (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. In other words, it makes as much sense as "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida."
This video also features Mike Porcaro on bass, replacing David Hungate, who had already left the band before the video was made. Lenny Castro (no relation to Fidel) is also featured in the video on percussion.
In 2012, "Africa" was listed by music magazine NME in 32nd place on its list of "50 Most Explosive Choruses." Trust me, it's one of the greatest songs of all time.
- David Paich – lead vocals (verses), backing vocals, synthesizer, piano
- Bobby Kimball – backing vocals, lead vocals (chorus)
- Steve Lukather – electric guitar, backing vocals
- Steve Porcaro – synthesizers
- David Hungate – bass guitar
- Jeff Porcaro – drums, cowbell, gong, additional percussion
- Lenny Castro – congas, shakers, additional percussion
- Timothy B. Schmit – backing vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar
- Joe Porcaro – percussion, marimba
- Jim Horn – recorders
Charts and certifications
- Billboard Hot 100 (peaked at #1)
Weezer covered the song, following a fan-initiated social media campaign, it was released on May 29, 2018.
In December 2017, Twitter user "@WeezerAfrica," run by a 14-year-old named Mary, tweeted, "@RiversCuomo it's about time you bless the rains down in Africa." After much back-and-forth between Mary and Weezer drummer, Patrick Wilson, the band released a cover of "Rosanna" to "troll" the meme. The next week, they went one further and covered "Hold the Line," "I'll Be Over You," and the lesser-known "Georgy Porgy." And then the next week, they released their cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," alluding to Dorothy's dog, Toto, from The Wizard of Oz. Even more frustratingly, their next cover was "Who Let the Dogs Out?" by the Baha Men.
Weezer released "Africa" on May 29, 2018. It was the band's first Hot 100 hit since 2010. "Africa" peaked at number one on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart in August 2018, becoming the band's first number-one single since "Pork and Beans" in 2008.
A limited edition 7-inch vinyl pressing was released by Weezer in July, 2018 and sold exclusively through Urban Outfitters. The pressing was limited to 1500 copies, with Africa as the A-side and Rosanna as the B-side. The cover artwork features a background of palm fronds with the tweet that inspired the song in the center of the cover.
Shortly after the song's release, Weezer appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! along with keyboardist Steve Porcaro of Toto to promote the single. On August 11, 2018, Toto responded by releasing a cover of Weezer's 2001 single "Hash Pipe", after debuting it in concert a week prior. We're still waiting on "Buddy Holly."
The music video, an homage to "Undone (The Sweater Song)," replaces Cuomo with "Weird Al" Yankovic.
In the 2010s, "Africa" has found a resurgence in popularity in internet culture and is used as a meme. When referenced online, "Africa" is sincerely praised for its musical quality and the warm nostalgic feelings it evokes.
- 2011: Pop Punk band Quietdrive featured a cover version on their album Your Record / Our Spin.
- 2011: Pop punk band Relient K released a cover version on their covers album Is for Karaoke.
- 2012: Progressive metal band Chaos Divine released a cover version as a single.
- 2016: Metalcore band Affiance released a cover version as a single.
- 2002: Ja Rule sampled the song on his song "Murder Reigns" taken from his fourth studio album The Last Temptation.
- 2006: American pop singer JoJo sampled "Africa" in her song "Anything", which served as the third single from her 2006 second studio album, The High Road.
- 2007: Lebanese-Canadian pop/R&B singer Karl Wolf sampled "Africa" in his own remake, also called "Africa", with added lyrics and musical composition and arrangement. The Karl Wolf song featured a rap section by the Canadian-Bahamian rapper Culture. The track served as the first single from his 2007 second studio album, Bite the Bullet, and reached number 2 on the Billboard Canadian Hot 100.
- 2010: American experimental artist Daniel Lopatin heavily sampled "Africa" in the song "A1", a song featured in Chuck Person's Eccojams Vol. 1.
- 2016: Swedish production duo Bacall & Malo sampled "Africa" in their remake, also called "Africa", with added lyrics and musical composition and arrangement. The Bacall & Malo music video also featured vocals by UK-based Nigerian singer Prince Osito. The track was the debut charting single of the Swedish duo peaking at number 18 on Sverigetopplistan, the official Swedish Singles Chart.
- 2016: You'd be lying if you said Sia's "Cheap Thrills" didn't sound exactly like the chorus from "Africa."
Things that a hundred men or more could never do
- Drag me away from you
- Do the things we never have
- Cure what's deep inside, especially if it's the common cold
- Figure out how solitary company is possible
- Figure out whatever the hell "As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti" means
- How to tell David Paich that Kilimanjaro is actually in Tanzania
- Change a lightbulb
- Answer the question, "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?"
- Understand why "Africa" is a meme