Friday, January 14, 2011

Toto: Africa

"I don't believe there's an atom of meaning in it."
- Alice, Alice in Wonderland

“Let the fuckers work that one out.”
- John Lennon, on finishing I Am The Walrus, having deliberately written nonsense lyrics after hearing that the English master at his old school was making his class analyse Beatles’ lyrics.

"So when people ask me what American Pie means, I tell them it means I don't ever have to work again if I don't want to."
- Don McLean

Toto’s Africa is their greatest hit and a perennial on radio stations. It always gets feet tapping and no doubt is a popular selection at karaoke… “I bless the rains down in Africa…”

Hear it and see it in a live performance at:

See and hear the original recording and video clip at:

'Or a superb acappella version by Perpetuum Jazzile at:

Just one thing: wtf do the lyrics mean?

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She's coming in 12:30 flight
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way,
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, Hurry boy, It's waiting there for you

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

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become


(Instrumental break)

Hurry boy, she's waiting there for you
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, I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa, I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never have

Some trivia, before looking at the lyrics:

- The song was part of the Toto IV album in 1982.

- It was #1 in the US and reached #3 in the UK.

- The song was written by the band’s keyboard player David Paich and their drummer Jeff Porcaro.

- The band spent a fair bit of time working on the song and ended up disliking it, wanting to cut it from the album. It was also felt that it was quite different from the rest of their works and didn’t have the Toto sound (for example, Hold The Line, Rosanna). They were convinced by a CBS suit to put it on the album and also to release it as a single.

- According to Toto guitarist Steve Lukather:
“I thought it was the worst song on the album. It didn't fit, the lyrics made no sense and I swore that if it was a hit record, I'd run naked down Hollywood Boulevard! That's how good I am at picking singles! (Laughs) I mean I love the song now but, to be honest with you, at the time I thought it was really the odd ball song on the album. It almost didn't make the record and it was a #1 worldwide single and still gets played everywhere today. No matter where I go in the world, people know that song… it's bizarre!”
- And how amazing is it to get Kilimanjaro, Olympus and Serengetti in one line in a song, much less a pop song. (Btw, you can’t see the Serengetti from Kilimanjaro).

Lyrics #2:

- The band has given few clues to the meaning of the lyrics.

- According to Jeff Porcaro, the idea originated as
"... 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. Geographically it doesn't make sense... The Kilimanjaro isn't near the river named in the song."
That doesn’t help much, especially if the origin of the idea is different from the final result.

- David Paich has said:
"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."
That helps just as little.

- The official video has a young man sitting in a library reading a book on Africa, the librarian being a black African female.

Also of little help in that those images don’t match the lyrics.

- There is no doubt that the lyrics are ambiguous and permit of a number of interpretations. Maybe that is what was intended.

- Some interpretations from various posters on websites:
# The singer is in Africa and his girlfriend is flying in on the evening plane. Hence he hears the African drums, she hears the quiet conversations on the aeroplane. He has been separated from her a long time and his heart has become hardened (“this thing I have become”). However, he wants to renew the love he has with her and “do the things we never have”. The old man’s “Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you” refers to love.

# There is no woman. The singer is on a 12.30 plane heading back to his beloved Africa, the “she” referred to being the plane that he is on. This is made clear by his referring to the stars being reflected on the wings of the plane that is taking him back to his salvation. The old man’s look of hurry, it’s waiting there for you refers to Africa. Now that he is back, nothing will drag him away and he will do all the things that he never did

# The song is about a second chance. The singer left his love to travel to Africa, got caught up in it but has come to realise that what is important is the woman he left behind, who is coming to meet him.

# The singer is waiting for his lover to arrive because he is leaving Africa with her, despite his love for Africa. The references to the sights and sounds of Africa are him taking them in, because he knows he is leaving them behind.

# The band was stoned when they wrote it and just threw random ideas together.

# The singer is trying to win back the girl he mistreated who left for Africa. He is following her to Africa and wants to cure his heartache by making up with her and doing right by her.

# It’s about a man who has become disillusioned with life and is going back to his roots in Africa to try to find himself. His existence has become one with no purpose and no meaning, he doesn’t like what he has become, hence his journey to Africa where he started. The first “she” is the aeroplane that is taking him to Africa; the second “she” is Africa, the “she” that he is heading towards. His questions of the old man for some wisdom or advice were met by a look that Africa is there for you, “it’s waiting there for you”, that is the answer for him.

# The line “I bless the rains down in Africa” could mean that he is looking forward to the rainy season in that it will free him from his usual duties and responsibilities, allowing him to spend time with his beloved, who is flying in.
Woody Allen once said:

“I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes.
It involves Russia.”

As for my own interpretation, let me paraphrase Woody Allen’s words to the present context:

“I have listened to, and read, the Toto lyrics over and over to understand what they mean.
It involves Africa.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.