Africa: my favourite country

Song: Africa – Toto, Number 5 December, 1982

I have had to tell students that Africa is not a country probably one hundred times.  I wonder if Toto is partly to blame for this.  Does “I bless the rains down in Europe” make sense?  I suppose, “I bless the rains across the many diverse countries in the continent of Africa” doesn’t scan well.

There is a whole genre of lyric writing that is like a series of non-sequiturs.  Each line seems to bear no relation to what was said before, but overall the words seem to be about something and sound “good”.

It’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never have

This chorus is like being in a conversation with a drunk.  Don’t you feel like the second line of the chorus should be: “That’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do”?  Sure, go ahead and bless the rains, see if I care, but what the hell does “take some time to do the things we never have” mean?  I never have enough money.  I suppose it would take me some time to do the not having of that.  I mean, I have been not having it for a long time now.

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

As sure as this mountain rises like another mountain above a plain (connected to the former and not the later mountain)?  Great simile.  Sort of like: “As sure as the Pacific washes like the Atlantic on the shores of New Zealand (the Pacific, not the Atlantic)”.

Impressively, the video also makes no sense.  The singer looks for a book in a library.  Librarian is brutally murdered.  Singer finds book.  Library burns down.  Band plays song while standing on enormous copy of the book the singer found.  Which seamlessly merges with lines like:

they grow restless longing for some solitary company

Last year the school performed this song at the end of year prize giving.  It was in the Wellington Town Hall and as an introduction the 600 or so students who were there did this:

It sounded awesome.

I think it was P.J. O’Rourke who said a thousand people singing anything sounds incredible.  A few hundred people singing Africa was pretty amazing, but on the whole this song doesn’t do a lot for me.  I’ve probably heard it too many times as background music in bars. Most things you read about Toto are sort of like this:

So there was bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat, two congas, a cowbell, and a shaker. We went back in, cut the tape, and made a one-bar tape loop… 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! So we had an analog groove.

I think we’re supposed to admire Toto’s technical proficiency, but you don’t get points with the great unwashed (or me) for technical proficiency.  To be honest, I always feel like technical proficiency is wasted in pop music.  Sort of like buying top of the line Champagne for your cat.  Or me.  I don’t really “get” fancy Champagne.  I also don’t get why anyone would care about the one bar loop on the Linn when you can just hit the kick drum twice and the snare once and it sounds cool.

3 thoughts on “Africa: my favourite country

  1. The video for “Africa” used to freak me out because of the fire at the end. (David Bowie’s “Cat People” video freaked me out for similar reasons, but it doesn’t seem to be online.) I also thought the line went “There’s nothing that a hundred men on Mars could ever do”, which is actually an improvement over the original.

  2. So did I. Strange. I also thought that it said “I hope it rains down in Africa”… but it doesn’t. Memory is a curious thing.

  3. Thanks for the memory – still a favourite song of mine – it sounds like we all made up our own lyrics – when a workmate asked me the other day – “Are you sure?’ I busted out – “As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like an Everest above the Serengetii” – only later did I realise it was Olympus – yeah – much more spiritual Toto. The song reminds me of my Grandma’s house with the radiostation just off the dial – always on Radio Windy. Memories.

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