The Story of... 'Africa' by Toto

25 February 2021, 16:15

Toto - Africa
Toto - Africa. Picture: Columbia

By Tom Eames

Toto's 1982 smash 'Africa' is without doubt one of the greatest songs of all time, let alone the 1980s.

It's almost impossible to not burst into song at the top of your lungs as soon as you hear that famous catchy intro.

And that chorus? "I bless the rains down in Africaaaaa". Incredible.

QUIZ: How well do you know 'Africa' by Toto?

But did you know its fascinating backstory? What is the song actually about? Who wrote it? How was it made? Find out all you need to know about the iconic tune right here...

  1. Who wrote 'Africa'?

    Toto's David Paich (left) and Jeff Porcaro (right)
    Toto's David Paich (left) and Jeff Porcaro (right). Picture: Getty

    'Africa' was written by Toto members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, and it ended up on the band's 1982 album Toto IV.

    The initial concept and lyrics for the song came from David Paich.

    Paich was playing around with his new keyboard, the CS-80, and found the brassy sound that became the song's famous opening riff.

    Read more: There's a hidden laugh in Toto's 'Africa' and the world seems different now

    He finished the melody and lyrics for the chorus in just ten minutes, much to his surprise: "I sang the chorus out as you hear it. It was like God channeling it. I thought, 'I'm talented, but I'm not that talented. Something just happened here!'"

    Paich then spent about six months refining the lyrics, before showing the song to the rest of the band.

  2. What is 'Africa' by Toto about?

    Toto - Africa
    Toto - Africa. Picture: Columbia

    In 2015, David Paich said that the song is about a man's love of the continent Africa, rather than a personal romance.

    He based the lyrics around a late night documentary with depictions of African plight and suffering. It had a lasting impact on him: "It both moved and appalled me, and the pictures just wouldn't leave my head. I tried to imagine how I'd feel about it if I was there and what I'd do."

    Jeff Porcaro added: "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."

    Further lyrics are about a person flying in to meet a lonely missionary, as Paich explained in 2018. As a child, he attended a Catholic school, and several of his teachers had done missionary work in Africa.

    At the time, Paich had never set foot in Africa, and based the song's landscape descriptions from an article in National Geographic.

  3. It almost didn't make the album at all

    Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather once described the song as "dumb" and "an experiment", and that some of the lyrics were "goofy", particularly the line about the Serengeti.

    Steve Porcaro said it was the last song they recorded and it barely made the cut for the album.

    At one stage, Jeff Porcaro considered saving 'Africa' for a solo album as other members didn't think it sounded like a Toto song. At the time, the band were more focused on the album's lead single 'Rosanna'.

  4. An Eagles member features on the song

    Timothy B Schmit
    Timothy B Schmit. Picture: Getty

    'Africa' saw Eagles member Timothy B Schmit provide a 12-string acoustic guitar to the song, and he also sang backing vocals.

  5. What happens in the video?

    The music video was directed by Steve Barron. In it, a researcher in a library (played by David Paich) tries to match a scrap of a picture of a shield to the book from which it was torn out.

    As he continues, a librarian (Jenny Douglas-McRae) working at a desk takes notice of him, while natives in the surrounding jungle begin to close in on the library.

    When the researcher finds a book entitled 'Africa', the native throws a spear, and the shield the native carries is the same as the one in the picture, sending a stack of books crashing down.

    'Africa' falls open to the page from which the scrap was torn, but a lantern lands on it and sets it on fire, after which the librarian's eyeglasses are seen falling to the floor.

  6. How did it do in the charts?

    Across 1982 and 1983, the song became a massive hit around the world.

    In the US, it topped the main Billboard chart, and it reached number 3 in the UK. It has sold over 6 million copies in the US alone.

  7. It has become an internet favourite

    In recent years, the song has grown in popularity thanks to its use in various TV shows, movies, video games, adverts, memes and YouTube covers.

    It has popped up in everything from Scrubs, South Park, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Family Guy and Stranger Things.

    There's even a Twitter feed that does nothing but tweet out lyrics to the song.

    In January 2019, a sound installation was set up in an undisclosed location in the Namib Desert to play the song on a constant loop.