When people think of the best 80s music, “Africa” by Toto is a top 10 pick all-time for many. The early 1980s brought a number of excellent new songs to the music industry.
But one of the most popular songs of 1982 almost never was. The song “Africa” has become an ingrained part of 1980s culture, but the story behind it is not known by many.
Thanks to its smooth beats, amazing vocals, and of course its music video, the band Toto played a crucial role in shaping 1980s culture. Even if you didn’t know the name of the song or band, you have definitely heard “Africa” at some point in your life.
Africa By Toto
Band members Jeff Porcaro and David Paich started off their careers as session musicians. Before they had ever signed a recording contract, they were already providing instrumentals for the records of many well-known artists in the music industry. Eventually, the duo decided to get together and create their own band, and with the help of their connections within the recording industry were able to get their first recording contract back in 1977 with Columbia records.
As David Paich was playing around with a brand-new Yamaha CS-80 keyboard, he discovered the sound by happenstance that would eventually become the opening riff to the song “Africa”.
Paich would also write the lyrics that would become one of the band’s greatest hits. But it would take him more than 6 months of refinement before he would introduce the song to the other members of the band.
The Story Behind Africa
One of the most interesting aspects of the song “Africa”, is the storyline. For those who have ever watched the music video on MTV, and listen to the lyrics, there was a sense that the song was all about a personal romance. However, the song itself was about the plight of Africa at the time.
When David Paich was writing the song one late night, he turned on a documentary that depicted the plight of Africa. And, that documentary had moved Paich in such a way that he just could not shake the images and the feelings that arose. So, he spent the next 6 months putting his thoughts to paper.
Africa Almost Never Was
At the time “Rosanna” was their biggest hit, and as a result the other band members felt that the song and beat didn’t blend in with what their fans expected of the band. As you can see below the sound was of “Africa” was a very far departure from what their fans were used to:
Several of the other band members even referred to “Africa” as a dumb experiment that would never make it on the album. In fact, the line about Olympus rising above the Serengeti was considered by Steve Lukather and Steve Porcaro to be incredibly goofy.
As a result, the song was one of the last songs the band recorded for the album itself. At one point, there was even a discussion that the song should be released as a solo, rather than part of a compilation album.
However, with the help of Timothy B Schmitt from the Eagles and his 12-string guitar, “Africa” ended up becoming one of the most popular tracks on the album.
Creating The Africa Music Video
The lyrics of the song tell a story about someone who was flying out to Africa in order to meet up with a missionary on the Serengeti. However, the video itself follows a slightly different storyline, starting off in a library where a researcher is looking for a book, from which was torn a small corner of a page depicting a native shield.
As the video transitions back and forth between the lead singer and the band playing on bookshelves, natives began to surround the library. Then, just as the researcher finds the book “Africa”, the natives bound into the library and chuck a spear at him. The book falls to the floor and opens to the page with the missing corner.
Thanks to the popularity of music videos, the lightly synthesized beats of the song, and the moving lyrics, “Africa” quickly worked its way to the top of the Billboard charts. It even made its way to number 3 on the UK charts as well.