Toto – Africa (Lyrics Review and Song Meaning)

One of the most famous musical beats in history is the into from this timeless classic known as “Africa” by the band Toto. Released initially on April 8, 1982, this song has survived almost four decades and is still gaining some serious momentum today in 2019. There are a lot of stories that make this song unique and aided in it’s longevity. We will explore them in detail below.

“Africa” by Toto appears on their fourth studio album ‘Toto IV’ released in September 1982. The song was written by band members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, and composed by Toto. The song was an instant hit reaching #1 on Billboard Hot 100 in February 1983. It was also honoured by NME magazine by listing it at #32 on ‘50 Most Explosive Choruses.’ The song has also appeared in many soundtracks in movies and TV shows making it a pop culture icon. Hence, “Africa” is undeniably Toto’s most famous and best-selling song to-date.

What is “Africa” by Toto About?

Many arguments have come forth throughout the years on what “Africa” is really singing about! Most had predicted that the song was a love story about a man and a woman. Lyrics such as “She’s coming in, 12:30 flight,” “As they grow restless longing for some solitary company” and “Hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you” have supported this argument. However, it is also noteworthy that in art “she” is used as a pronoun for things we love, adore and respect. In an interview done with David Paich by Grantland, the lyricist had fondly remarked that “it was about a guy’s love of a continent.”

In the same interview, Paich explains the POV of the song; “I’ve just always kind of been fascinated with Africa. I just kind of romanticized this story about a social worker that was over there, that falls in love and can’t — is having kind of a paradox, trying to tear himself away from Africa to actually have a life.”

What Inspired the Song “Africa” by Toto?

As a child David Paich attended Catholic School. There he saw a lot of brothers, who were teachers, going to Africa and coming back. “All these thoughts about priests and young social workers that have gone over there, devoting their lives to helping people, and having to choose what kind of life they’re going to have — whether to keep doing this, what I’m doing here, or can I have a life, get married, have kids, and do that kind of thing.”

The song is not without flaws. David Paich brings in three landmark comparisons in the second verse which turns out to be factually incorrect. To this, Jeff Porcaro explains; “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.”

Watch “Africa” Music Video by Toto


Download “Africa” Single on iTunes and Amazon
Buy ‘Essential Toto’ Greatest Hits Album on iTunes and Amazon

The music video portrays a researcher, played by David Paich, in a library in search of a book from which a paper had been torn out. We also see a librarian lady in the background. As he continues his search we also see several African tribal groups closing in on the library. A spear shot by one of these tribesmen hits a lantern and sets fire to a stack of books. In this stack is a book titled ‘Africa’ and the page of the torn piece of paper. We also see the band members performing on top of a stack of books, where the topmost book is titled ‘Africa.’

The song was featured on the popular adult cartoon series Family Guy from Season 10 Episode 23.

Lyrics Review and Song Meaning of “Africa”

Verse 1

In the first verse of “Africa,” the singer is arriving in the African continent in an airplane. The first thing that he notices is the echoing drums–a classic imagery of the African culture. Lyricist’s inexperience of the finer details of Africa are portrayed in such broader assumptions of the continent.

The lyric “She’s coming in, 12:30 flight” has us wondering if the singer is talking about his girlfriend coming into the country as well. Paich did mention that he wondered about the struggles of managing a social worker life and a family life did cross his mind when composing these lyrics.

‘The moonlit wings’ are the wings of the airplane which carries him to what he calls his ‘salvation.’

On his way into the continent, the singer stops an old man in hopes of gaining some old and lost wisdom (another broader imagery of the African tribes). But the old man has no answers for him, but gestures that he himself should discover the wisdom.

Chorus

These infamous lyrics are shrouded in mystery much like the African continent was back then.

The singer talks about a strong devotion towards someone/something. He sings that it will take a lot to pull him away from a certain “you.” This “you” could be the continent or his girlfriend who is arriving in 12:30 flight. However, since Paich explained that the song is about his love of the continent, we will assume that he is singing about his affection towards Africa.

“I bless the rains down in Africa” is possibly one of the most passionate and endearing lines of this song. African countries were largely relying on agriculture as their economy. Although the second largest continent in the world, Africa is 60% desert today. It is one of the hottest and dryest regions in the world. Hence, rain was a crucial part of livelihood among the Africans.

David Paich told The Guardian magazine in 2018 the underlying story of this infamous hook; “They (welfare workers of Paich’s Catholic School) told me how they would bless the villagers, their Bibles, their books, their crops and when it rained, they’d bless the rain. That’s where the hook line – “I bless the rains down in Africa” – came from.”

The last line of the chorus, too, is shrouded in mystery. It is forever in ambiguity, as he sings of doing things that he has never done. This could be a reference to all the social work he would engage in or about his sexual passions about the girl that will be joining him in Africa.

Acoustic Cover of “Africa” by Toto

Verse 2

In the second verse, the singer sets the soundtrack for Africa with the cry of the wild dogs at night. Wild dogs are native to the sub-Saharan region and are seen in large groups. So it is no wonder that they grow restless for solitary companionship, may be just like the singer in Africa without his lover.

In the next lines, the singer draws a comparison between Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa with Mount Olympus and Serengeti. Kilimanjaro mountain does stand over 2,900 meters taller than Mount Olympus. However, Kilimanjaro does not rise above the Serengeti, they are about 100 miles away from each other. Hence, this is factually incorrect, but it is interesting to see if the songwriter was going for facts here. Or, the singer says “I know that I must do what’s right/As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti,” so in fact, we see that his certainty is incorrect. May be what he think is right, is actually not accurate.

In the next two lines, the singer is again morally conflicted. He has a mission to “cure” the deep rooted problems of Africa, most noteably poverty and starvation. But on the other hand his girlfriend is coming in, and he wonders if he would never have a ‘normal’ family life. He is frightened of the person he has become–infatuated with this strange and vast continent.

Bridge

There is one line in the bridge of “Africa” by Toto and its still as confusing. This single line is a rip off of the words almost muttered by the wise old man the singer encounters upon entering the continent. However, there is one word that has changed this time.

“Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you” from the first verse has now changed to “Hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you.”

First, “it” definitely meant the African continent. Towards the end of the song, does he still loathe for Africa? His conscious says that “she” is waiting for you. Again, this could be the girlfriend that came down in an airplane. Or, “she” could have been used as a term of endearment towards the African continent. Many things with a fond affection for someone, could be referred in a feminine form as ‘her’ or ‘she.’ Eg: ships, oceans, mother land, school etc. The singer could have developed a deeper level of affection and love towards Africa for him to call “it” a “she” in the end.

In January 2019, a sound system was set up in an undisclosed location in the Namib Desert to play “Africa” on a constant loop. The installation is powered by solar batteries, allowing the song to be played indefinitely.

Toto’s “Africa” playing on loop in the Namib Desert (Image: boingboing.net)

Let us hear what you think about this iconic track by Toto in the comments below. If you love this article, make sure to share it with your friends.

Complete Lyrics to “Africa” by Toto

Adam McDonald

Hi! I am the founder and lead author and editor of Justrandomthings music community. A vast range of personal interests from Hip-Hop to Country to Hard Rock and Punk music will keep you entertained.

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2 Responses

  1. Judy Comiskey says:

    I am listening to this song and reading this commentary during the most “devastating” week in the history of the world. The C virus has indeed caused March Madness. But this has set the tone for my day and I will refer back to your insightful article and listen to the drums often during this period and after. Thank you…as I search for some solitary company . I feel peace. God be with us all! He is!

  2. Gordon says:

    Does he still “loathe” for Africa? I don’t think that word means what you think it does.

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