Love it or hate it, Toto's 1982 soft rock mega-hit "Africa" is here to stay. But how did a band from Los Angeles get famous for a song about Africa?
Dave Simpson of The Guardian recently interviewed the song's writer (and vocalist) David Paich and found out:
One of the reasons I was in a rock band was to see the world. As a kid, I’d always been fascinated by Africa. I loved movies about Dr Livingstone and missionaries. I went to an all-boys Catholic school and a lot of the teachers had done missionary work in Africa. They told me how they would bless the villagers, their Bibles, their books, their crops and, when it rained, they’d bless the rain. That’s where the hook line – “I bless the rains down in Africa” – came from.
They said loneliness and celibacy were the hardest things about life out there. Some of them never made it into the priesthood because they needed companionship. So I wrote about a person flying in to meet a lonely missionary. It’s a romanticised love story about Africa, based on how I’d always imagined it. The descriptions of its beautiful landscape came from what I’d read in National Geographic.
Paich told Musicradar in 2013:
"Its first inception came when there used to be UNICEF commercials on TV, showing children and families living in poverty. The first time I saw that it affected me deeply…
"I sat down and started playing and the chorus just came out like magic. I remember after I'd sung 'I bless the rains down in Africa', I just stopped and went, 'Wait a minute. I might be a little talented, but I'm not that talented - God's using me for an instrument here!'
"I realised I had a song in the making, so I started writing on the Yamaha CS-80, which you hear in the intro - that's the keyboard playing - and then you hear the little kalimba sounds [on the Yamaha GS1] in the chorus. It was a fertile time to make music with new sounds, and that kind of defined that song."
In 2015, Paich shared with Grantland:
“We had finished our record, so when I started writing that, they were like, ‘Dave, why don’t you save this for your solo album?’ It’s kind of the joke — when someone writes a song that doesn’t really fit into the Toto mold, the joke is, everybody says, ‘Save that for your solo album.’ So the band kind of indulged me and let me start working on this track for it. This one barely made it; it just got on the end of the Toto IV album. It’s the one that didn’t get away, you know?”
We hadn’t the faintest idea that this was going to be a hit, maybe until the head of Columbia Records called us and said, ‘You know that they’re starting to play this song “Africa”? It’s starting to become a dance hit.’ I go, ‘Are you kidding me? “Africa” is becoming a dance hit?’ ‘Yeah, they’re starting to play it in these discos and dance places in New York City.’
“I think it starts breaking there, and you know how things catch on. It became popular, kind of like a little cult thing, and all of a sudden started climbing the charts. We couldn’t believe it. I mean, we still look at each other, turn to each other with a look of amazement today, at the journey that song’s taken. Normally, things that are kind of deep and musical and kind of off the beaten path don’t make for hit records. I mean not always, for us anyway, so that was a very special record.”