Meaning of “Africa” by Toto

“Africa” is a song recorded by the American rock band Toto. The lyrics of “Africa” capture the quandary of a guy who must choose between his two loves — the continent of Africa and girl he finds therein.

The song’s co-writer David Paich (keyboardist and vocalist of Toto) said he was inspired to write the song when during the early 80s, he watched a documentary about the “death and suffering” plaguing many people in Africa.

According to Paich, the horrible images of suffering stayed in his mind for a very long time, forcing him to imagine what he would feel and what he’d do had he had the misfortune to be there.

“Africa” actually has a number of interpretations, one of which is an invitation to immerse oneself into a situation of terrible death and suffering, as was the case in Africa at the writing of the song, and to determine what one would do.

More about the Lyrics of “Africa”

In a 2015 interview, Paich said the song is about a man’s deep love of Africa. Three years later, the songwriter went on to describe the song as one that is about someone flying to a distant land (apparently Africa) to meet a lonely missionary there.

FYI: Growing up, Paich was enrolled in a Catholic school, and many of the teachers at his school often traveled to Africa where they worked as missionaries. And that inspired the lyrics “I bless the rains down in Africa”.

Chorus of "Africa"

The line “I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become” is one of a personal reflection. Here, the singer sees a need to take a break from his work and give some time to other important things in life — such as getting married, having kids, etc.

Paich confirmed the meaning of this line in an interview he had with SongFacts. In the interview, Paich said at the time he wrote the song, he was at a period in his life where he had become so immersed in his musical career that he felt he was becoming a victim of his career.

Owing to this, Paich said he could not go out to focus on the important things in life that people of his age were engaged in such as getting married and starting a family.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and Olympus

The word “Kilimanjaro” in the line “As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti” is Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in Africa.

Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania. On the other hand, “Serengeti” refers to the Serengeti ecosystem, which is among the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.

The Serengeti is located in both Tanzania and Kenya. As of “Olympus”, it is the highest mountain in Greece.

So considering the fact that Kilimanjaro and Serengeti are located in the same region (the northern part of Tanzania), it makes perfect sense for the writer(s) to refer to Kilimanjaro as towering over Serengeti.

Music Video

The music video of “Africa” was directed by renowned Irish film director and music video director Steve Barron. In the music industry, Barron is famed for directing such notable music videos as the following:

He also directed Toto’s 1982 global hit “Rosanna

Interesting Facts about Toto’s “Africa”

“Africa” was written by David Paich and the famous American drummer, songwriter and music producer Jeff Porcaro. FYI: Porcaro died at the premature age of 38 from a heart attack that was caused by cocaine use.

His tragic death occurred on August 5, 1992 (about 9 years after “Africa” was released). In 1993, he was honored posthumously with an induction into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.

As of the time the song was written, neither of the writers had been to the continent of Africa.

The track’s production was handled by Toto.

The song was released officially in Europe on May 10th, 1982 and in the United States on October 30th, 1982. It was the third single from the band’s fourth studio album titled Toto IV. The entire project won a Grammy Award for the Album of the Year at the 1983 Grammy Awards.

Instead of Toto’s lead vocalist Joseph Williams, Paich performed lead vocals on this track, making it one of the few Toto songs on which he sang lead vocals.

Achievements of “Africa”

“Africa” was Toto’s first number 1 hit. Till date, the song is the band’s only number 1 hit.

The track peaked at number 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and number 3 on the UK Singles Chart.

The track, which is arguably Toto’s most famous song, was one of the most famous and successful global hits of the 1980s. According to members of Toto, they never expected the song to be as successful as it eventually became.

Did “Africa” win a Grammy Award?

Despite being a massive global hit, “Africa” never won a Grammy. However, the album (Toto IV) on which the track appeared won as many as 6 Grammys at the 1983 Grammy Awards, including the aforementioned “Album of the Year”.

The album’s lead single “Rosanna” also won the Grammy for Record of the Year in 1983.

Which artists have sampled “Africa”?

Since the song came out in 1982, it has been sampled by several artists, including rapper Nas and singer JoJo. One of the most notable songs containing a sample of “Africa” is the 2003 hit “Murder Reigns” by American rapper Ja Rule.

Which artists have covered “Africa”?

Since the track came out in 1982, it has been covered by several artists. One of the most famous covers was released by the American rock band Weezer. The band released a cover of the song on May 29th, 2018. This was after a social media campaign to persuade the band to cover the song was launched in December 2017 by a 14-year-old female fan.

Which musical genre does “Africa” belong to?

It is a soft rock/light rock song.

The Continent of Africa

The African continent is the second most populous and second-largest continent, consisting of 54 countries. Despite the notion that Africa is the least successful continent, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

It is rich with a beautiful culture and heritage. It is also filled to the brim with radiant sights, awesome wildlife, rich heritage, and beautiful people.

One special attribute of Africa is the diversity of each of its countries. Though all countries emerged from one African heritage, each of them has different and special beliefs with sub-cultural divisions within their regions.

Two clear examples are the African countries Ghana and La Cote D’Ivoire. These countries are rich in diverse heritages and popular for their supply of Cocoa to other parts of the world. Within Ghana are 16 different regions and over twenty tribes, each with its distinct beliefs and ways of life.

Another is Nigeria. It is the largest country by population in Africa, with different tribes such as the Yoruba, Igbo, and many others.

The cultural heritage of the African continent is entrenched in its Music, Dance, Art, Languages among others.

The uniqueness of the continent’s music has over the years won the hearts of many music lovers around the world. The clothes and traditional styles that were once frowned upon are now being embraced not just by the people of the homeland but other continents as well. Wearing the traditional Ankara or Kente is now seen as an act of pride.

Sweet Africa!

Amidst the rich heritage of Africa breaking boundaries is “Afro”, a term used to describe African dance. From different parts of Africa, dances from afrobeat and dance lords have consumed the contemporary dance styles that have reigned in the past years. These dances can be traced back to the Sub-Saharan African music traditions.

There are some cities and sights in parts of the African Continent that continue to leave tourists and onlookers in awe. Amongst the numerous breathtaking sites in Africa include the following:

  • The spectacular Victoria Falls, the Namib
  • The amazing Sahara Desert
  • Egypt’s ancient and legendary city of Memphis
  • Old castles and forts abandoned by colonial masters
  • The beautiful town Knysna in South Africa
  • Ihla, the island of Mozambique
  • Lake Victoria (one of the purest and freshest lakes)
  • Umm al-Maa in Libya

Africa also boasts of perhaps the largest density of wild animal populations with a diversity of species including large carnivores, herbivores, and jungle animals.

The African continent, despite all its economic and financial shortcomings, has many beautiful and great aspects that function successfully in its regard.  

21 Responses

  1. Deb says:

    Love the song but the Music Video is nothing like what I envision while listening to the song. The only part I can relate to in the video is the spinning globe. Found the people wonderful but the governments under which they exist terrible for the most part & lacking in support of the people.

  2. Wendy says:

    When I was a little kid, about 40 years ago – LOL – I thought the verse was “guess it rains down in Africa”. When I found out it that it was “bless the rains”, it made me cry so hard. It’s an emotional song that still to this day I play over and over just to hear the lyrics I didn’t understand.

    Great job Toto! My favorite of yours!

    • Dawid says:

      It makes me overcome decades of conditioning (‘different times’) and cry, as it reaches right into my heart – I was born in Africa, my dad was born there, but I’ve had to come north after one of the most beautiful countries, with the most friendly people was given over to politicians…

    • Anonymous says:

      When I first heard the song, I heard ” I MISS the rains down in Africa”.

      Which for me made the song super special because when I was a kid, I went to Kenya with a performance arts group (all Black girls from the South side of Chicago) to do an arts exchange with students from one of the small villages in Kenya. I remember we were teaching one of our dances to them and just when it was time to perform, a crazy rainstorm started. It was a big warehouse style building and there were no glass in the windows. So rain was started pouring in and we couldnt plug up our speakers to play the music. All we had was a phone with the song on it.

      So I was super disappointed thinking of course, it was canceled because of the rain. Right? NOPE! The Kenyan kids crowded around the phone to hear the song and started re-creating the beat and rhythm using their fists and the tables. It…was…so…cool. It was LOUD, like thundering thru the room, and it sounded awesome. So my group ( 14 year old me and the mix of Chicago & Kenyan kids who were in my group) performed our dance piece as rain poured in and soaked us and the other kids all around made the beat. It was epic. I’ve never felt so alive as in that moment. And to this day its one of my favorite memories ever.

      So my mishearing ” I miss the rains down in Africa” gave me crazy nastalgia, and I still sing it that way.

  3. Sal says:

    Beautiful song, one of the best!

  4. 138742 says:

    love it

  5. Kathryn Terhune Cotton says:

    I’ve loved this song since I was first release in late ’82. To this day, it still sends chills down my spine.

  6. Bruce says:

    Is the song Africa about climate change?

    The boy is torn between going to Africa and helping the Khoisan hunter gatherers who are suffering droughts from global warming, climate change and our CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions.

    Should he go to Africa to help?

    Or should he meet the girl of his dreams whose coming in on a 12:30 flight?

    • Sean says:

      No. It isn’t.
      The song was written more than 35 years ago. I remember buying the 45 from the racks at the local Target. We were more concerned about an oncoming Ice Age back then than Global Warming.

  7. Anonymous says:

    HE WILL GO TO AFRICA TO HELP THAT IS HIS MISSION & IN DOING SO HE WILL SEE HER SHE WILL SEE HIM …AS EYES MEET

  8. Dawid says:

    It makes me cry, even after years of conditioning against such emotion (‘different times’). I’m in exile from Africa, after being born there, and my dad being born there, a beautiful country, with generous people, cynically trashed to further a handful of politicians…

  9. Anonymous says:

    They will meet someday and fall in love

  10. DJ Burnham says:

    My favorite version is by the Angel City Chorale.

  11. Anonymous says:

    This grabs my heart in a very compassionate way

  12. Mayi says:

    touches my soul. I am a Cuban refugee, to me, it reaches down to my nomadic longing and searches for a home that was lost long ago.

  13. Jami says:

    It’s my understanding that the song is about a guy who’s never been to Africa. That’s why he sings the part about Mount Kilimanjaro because it’s 292 km (181.44) from the Serengeti, therefore cannot tower above it as it’s too far away. The dude is basically like a “Nice Guy” who’s obsessed with Japan but knows nothing real about the country.

  14. mugwort says:

    The song to me isn’t about Africa or any physical place. It’s about longing. Longing for something so much that one aches with emotion thinking about what ever that longing refers to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may also like...