I hear the drums echoing tonight. But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation. These lines, and the iconic synth rhythm, begin one of the greatest/worst songs of the last forty years. Though released in 1982, “Africa” by Toto is everywhere still. Since 2016, Google searches for “africa by toto” have spiked.
You may have heard recently of the art installation in Namibia that is set up to play Africa on loop endlessly – like forever. Or you may have seen the countless internet memes about Africa, such as “Africa by Toto but every word is in alphabetical order” or “Africa (1 Step Out of Key & Off Beat)”. An article from Motherboard described the Internet’s “unironic, almost undivided adoration” for the song, and broke down why it is such a phenomenon still. They describe the appeal of Africa as “borrowed nostalgia for somewhere you’ve never been.” That line speaks true to me.
Starting in 2016, I dove headfirst into Africa by Toto. Of course, I’m sure that I heard the song before then, but it really came to my attention after watching season one of Stranger Things on Netflix, where Africa is part of the show’s 80s soundtrack. One Friday morning in early September, I decided to listen to Africa while eating breakfast, so I put it on loop, and didn’t stop. For the rest of the weekend, it was the only song I listened to, and I probably played it hundreds of times. I can’t explain it, but somehow the unabashed sincerity of Toto and the powerful synth was exactly what soul needed at that moment. From that point on, I became an evangelist, preaching the Gospel of “blessing the rains down in Africa.”
And I believed in the Gospel of Africa. I knew that it was a cheesy song, and that the lyrics were total nonsense, written by a bunch of Americans who had never been to Africa. I knew it was a meme, but regardless, it became my most played song of 2016. My mom bought me a t-shirt with all the lyrics on it, and I wore it proudly. I suggested on multiple occasions that the Blue Band should learn it as a stands-tune for football games or as one of our halftime songs. It became a running joke for my friends to let me know anytime they heard Africa out in public. When the Illini Marching Band played Africa at football game, I nearly cried. And whenever it came on at a party or wedding, I would rage to it. For better or worse, Africa became part of my personality.
However, there can sometimes be too much of a good thing. After the 30th time getting a snapchat about Africa playing in public somewhere, it loses its appeal. Irrationally, I started to feel like my love for Africa was people most associated with me. While I loved the song, I didn’t want to be known for being “the Africa kid.” I didn’t want my personality and my character to be subordinate to my love for Toto. So I actively tried to distance myself from it. I stopped wearing the Africa t-shirt. I stopped responding when friends texted me about it. I even stopped listening to it – it dropped to my 40th most played song of 2018. I wanted to be more than the song. I fell out of love with Africa.
It’s been a slow process of coming back around. I realize that my concerns about being defined by my interest in corny 80s music is totally absurd. I am learning to love it again. There’s something fundamentally enjoyable about a guilty pleasure song like this, so I’ve decided to lean back into it. I am proud to love “Africa” by Toto. In fact, I’ve been listening to it on loop for the past hour as I write this blog. Moral of the story: If you love some corny, dumb shit like “Africa” by Toto, don’t be ashamed. Just let the synth waves wash over you and remind you that life’s too short to worry about it.