Wednesday, February 12, 2014

TMFW 23 - Toto "Bless[es] the Rains," Long Distance

By the time "Africa" was released, Toto had already enjoyed two top ten songs.  "Hold the Line," from their debut album, made it to number five and was certified gold.  "Rosanna" was the first single from Toto IV, the same record that contains "Africa."  It reached number 2 and was also certified gold.  (In fact, "Rosanna" won the Grammy Award in 1983 for Record of the Year, with Toto IV taking home Album of the Year.)
"Africa" contains a hypnotic, tribalesque drumbeat, and oddly specific lyrics like "the wild dogs cry out in the night, as they grow restless longing for some solitary company," and "I know that I must do what's right, sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti." The refrain repeatedly notes that the singer "bless[es] the rains down in Africa." 
So where did the song come from?  Was it a retelling of the songwriter's safari in Tanzania, at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro?  Did he have a mystic experience in "bless[ing] the rains" there? In short, no.  The song is in fact the opposite.  According to the "Toto Encyclopedia," the song is a collection of intentionally cliched and vague memories of the continent.  According to the co-songwriter (and Toto drummer) Jeff Porcaro, the song was conceived as "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."  That's why the song notes "the drums echoing," "the wild dogs," and Kilimanjaro; they are a far-away picture of Africa, invented in a studio four time zones away. 
Despite its dense (and, frankly, silly) lyrics, "Africa" became Toto's biggest hit.  It hit number 1 on the charts for one week in February, 1983 - it was bookended by previous TMFW subject "Down Under" - and became the third and last Toto record to be certified gold.  


BONUS FACT: Just as the lyrics of "Africa" were based on conjured memories from TV and childhood, so was the drumbeat.  According to Jeff Porcaro, he and his family visited the New York World's Fair in 1964 when he was 10 years old, and he watched the drummers at the African pavilion with amazement.  When creating the drumbeat on "Africa," he sought to replicate the rhythmic, repetitive beats he first encountered there.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this got me to go back to the other winners of the 25th Grammys--what a horrid year. Toto also won the Engineering and Producer awards for IV. And the other Album of the Year nominees? Yikes: