Many listeners were not even alive when the song was released, but now people of all ages just cannot get enough of the song Africa by 1980s rock group Toto. I mean, not everybody loves this song, but everybody knows this song one way or another. For me, I found it when I watched Straight No Chaser, an all male acapella group, incorporated it into their rendition of Twelve Days of Christmas. Others might have found it when Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake made it the main bit in a recurring sketch called Camp Winnipesaukee. Or maybe you heard it in the very first episode of Stranger Things. Or Family Guy. Or Southpark, since that song found its way in an episode of both of those shows. Or maybe you found it in a meme, since it looks to be making its rounds in that internet culture phenomena by contributing to pure, wholesome internet humor. Either way, you found it or it found you.
This year is going to mark the 35th year anniversary of Africa by Toto reaching number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, so now is better than ever to ask the question: Why do young people love Africa so much?
In an article from The Guardian, songwriter and vocalist David Paich of Toto said "It was as if a higher power was writing through me, because this stuff was coming out like magic" when talking about how Africa came to be. Steve Lukather, the guitarist questioned the lyricism, saying "I thought the song had a brilliant tune, but I remember listening to the lyrics and going: 'Dave, man, Africa? We’re from north Hollywood. What the f*ck are you writing about? I bless the rains down in Africa? Are you Jesus, Dave?”'' Now, with the 1980s making a huge comeback in pop culture, music, and in some senses fashion (although now it seems to shift toward the 70s), Millennials look back on an outwardly simpler time when songs like Africa could reach #1 on a Hot 100 and no one had to worry about student loans or what political think piece would visit your Facebook next.
Really, Africa stands as the epitome of 80's: a fun aesthetic, iconic drum loops, fun synths and keyboard riffs, and nonsensicality (you have four white men who have never been to Africa writing about Africa in a romanticized and Westernized way), but if you look past the surface level, look beyond the aesthetic people remember it as, you find a more serious time in that same era. The Ethiopia famine devastated the country around the same time Africa was soaring in popularity. I am not saying these two events are interconnected beyond chronologically lining up, but it is always important to remember the issues that seldom come to mind when reminiscing on a time period you never grew up in. Still, I see nothing wrong with enjoying something from a different time period or even wishing you lived 30 years prior as long as you recognize its many other contexts.
But maybe you just like Africa because it bops. It bangs. The song has something for everyone, from the vocals to the lyrics to the drums before the refrain to the pan flute solo. Frankly, I love this song. Nothing feels more satisfying than screaming the line It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you! with a group of people, no matter how off key the room is. But who cares? Nothing busts my gut more than listening to people hit lead singer Bobby Kimball's iconic high note near the end of the song. You know, IIII'M GONNA TAKE SOMETIME. I have also tried giving that line a go, and I either come in at the wrong time or my vocal chords fail to go that high. Oh well. I have fun. We all have fun. It is a song appropriately fit for the 1980s, and has not depreciated since. Coincidentally, Toto released a best hits album last Friday, which I recommend giving a listen.
One more thing: there is a website that endlessly loops Africa. You're welcome.