Nothing sums up 2018 like the very fact that Toto’s “Africa” is now our unofficial anthem. It’s a song that’s ridiculous by definition — an Eighties ode to Africa by a lot of L.A. rock dudes who’d never set foot in the place. But something concerning this song speaks to our moment. It’s the new “Don’t Stop Believin’” — a mega-cheese classic of Eighties sentiment that’s gotten bizarrely popular lately, beloved by hipsters and moms and tone-deaf karaoke singers screaming “I bless the rains down in Africa!” Like it or hate it, you’ve probably heard it today. You’ll hear it tomorrow. This damn song follows you everywhere, such as the sound of wild dogs crying out in the night.
Toto’s Africa is really a place that doesn’t exist and never did — this song has nothing regarding the continent, unless you count that groovy synth-kalimba solo. However the song works out to be a map of today’s America, which is why it’s much bigger now than it had been in the Eighties. As Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro summed it down, “A white boy is wanting to create a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he is able to only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.” The singer is so deep in his feelings, he barely notices where he is—hence the hilarious “whoa dude, there exists a mountain” moment when “Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.” 사설토토 Needless to freaking say, you can’t see Kilimanjaro from the Serengeti, which is really a couple hundred miles away. Does it matter? The complete point of “Africa” is that you’re nowhere at all.
Weezer just scored their first Hot 100 hit in years with their surprise cover of “Africa,” answering a widespread online fan petition. Toto returned the favor last month by playing Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” live. “We figured since we were smoking hash since before they certainly were born, that’s the one we ought to do,” guitarist Steve Lukather said onstage. “That is our tribute to Weezer, God bless ‘em.” For decades Lukather has played in Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band, which means that every gig, Ringo is up there drumming to “Africa.” Did any Beatles fan predict the next where Ringo would spend the 21st Century playing “Africa” every day however not “Octopus’s Garden”? Yet that’s what we’ve come to. As a great man once sang, it don’t come easy.
The complete weird history of American culture is in this song somewhere. The studio pros in Toto played on Thriller, as well as rock classics from Boz Scaggs to Steely Dan, which means all that grooveology is lurking deep in “Africa.” Thomas Pynchon put the song in his latest novel Bleeding Edge, in which a crew of start-up dot-commers belt it in a NYC karaoke bar on the eve of 9/11, except they think it goes, “I left my brains down in Africa.” It shows through to TV from Stranger Things to South Park.Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon sang it at Camp Winnipesaukee. CBS thought we would play it within their coverage of Nelson Mandela’s funeral, which even the Toto guys thought was a bit insane. (Singer and co-writer David Paich released a statement saying CBS should used actual South African music instead, adding “We honor Nelson Mandela.”) Going to the song for authentic African flava is similar to getting a French lesson from Paris Hilton.
“Africa” hit Number One in February 1983 — it replaced Men at Work’s ode to Australia, “Down Under,” the only real time in pop history two continents slugged it out for Number One. (Right after the band Asia had the best-selling album of 1982.) But “Down Under” is really a real song about an actual place — Aussie bros kicking local slang to shout out Vegemite sandwiches. “Africa” is totally different — a song about feeling homesick for nowhere. The singer is lost over time and place, yearning for a romance that never happened in a homeland he’s never seen. He doesn’t know a thing about Africa, except it has to be better than the nightmare where he’s trapped right now. (You might even say he’s…frightened of the thing that he’s becoooome!) These days, most of us understand how that feels. Might you require a better summary of modern alienation when compared to a yacht-rock song about the desert?