Saturday, August 13, 2011

Toto's "Africa": Haunting, Embarrassing, Quasi-Racist, Or Some Combination Of All Three?

Say it's 1982, you just bought Toto IV and you've put it on the turntable for the first time. There's "Rosanna," there's "Make Believe," some rockers, some ballads, some hits, some filler - in other words, nothing too unexpected. Finally you come to the end of the album, track number 10. There's this quiet drumbeat. Some bizarrely synthesized percussion. The verse begins:
I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She's coming in 12:30 flight
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say , "Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you"
What is this? Where's Toto? Where are we? Who's the old man? What's waiting there? What the hell is going on?

Suddenly there's a dramatic drum fill, and the Toto that we know and (slightly) love appears in its full splendor:
It's gonna take a lot to take me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
See, you wouldn't have been crazy if you'd concluded up to this point that Toto was only capable of churning out some slick, generic pop-rock and nothing more. But you would have been wrong.

Who knew Toto had it in them? Maybe they didn't. Apparently in one UK survey, the line "I know that I must do what's right/Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti" was voted the worst lyric of all time. I used to think it was "rises like a lepress." Either way, it's problematic.

But who cares about the ridiculous lyrics when you can savor the atmosphere? It's the little touches that impress me most, like the subtle instrumental shifts that make the last go-around of the chorus particularly powerful. Listen to how the guitars enter at 3:16, then climb even higher at 3:27. Or the soaring vocal ad-libbing around 3:32. What really does it to me every time are those little, extra-emphatic piano chords at 3:42. And then - all is quiet again. A man on the savannahs of Africa must conceal his passion, only to reveal it when the moment strikes.

I didn't think such an atmospheric song would have a video that matches the images in my head. Toto, why did I underestimate you so?

Jeff Porcaro said of the song, "... 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." This is hilarious, because what I picture when I hear this song is not really Africa, but some city-dwelling white guy's weird mental images of Africa. I can tell you exactly what this song reminds me of. It reminds of the displays of African wildlife I used to look at as a kid in the old Academy of Arts and Sciences in Golden Gate Park, with their cheap, fake backdrops and stiff tigers and zebras. And Boom! Toto was thinking almost the same thing.

Here we have David Paich in a rather urban-looking library, staring at a black librarian, with lots of masks and flaming torches surrounding him. So they just found some black girl to play the librarian? How much do you want to bet she was just some black girl, not African or anything, but probably just from Baltimore, and they said, "Hey, do you want to be in this video about Africa?"

Paich keeps flipping through books. What is he looking for? He's looking for a book called Africa. But little does he know, the book called Africa is sitting under the feet of Toto! At any rate, when he finally finds the book, a savage warrior throws a spear into the library, and the black librarian's glasses fall shattered to the floor as the building burns down in flames. You see, by trying to search for Africa, the White Man has been destroying Africa! Yes, Toto. Yes.

6 comments:

Herr Zrbo said...

This is one of the blandest songs I've ever heard, you really like it that much?

Little Earl said...

This is one of the blandest comments I've ever read.

Little Earl said...

See, they agree with me in Slovenia.

Anonymous said...

shut yer puss ya big fanny this is a great song just open your ears and listen to it.

Anonymous said...

"Jeff Porcaro said of the song, '... 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 means that the person writing this song was just messinf with his imagination, as opposed to facts.

Then you go on and say "This is hilarious, because what I picture when I hear this song is not really Africa, but some city-dwelling white guy's weird mental images of Africa." YOU ARE LITERALLY JUST REPEATING HIM, i cant even tell if you're amused and pointing out the similarities, or being unironically stupid and pretending your sentence was the opposite.

But then, this ia golden: "I can tell you exactly what this song reminds me of. It reminds of the displays of African wildlife I used to look at as a kid in the old Academy of Arts and Sciences in Golden Gate Park, with their cheap, fake backdrops and stiff tigers and zebras. And Boom! Toto was thinking almost the same thing."

YOU JUST REPEATED WHAT PORCARO SAID FOR THE SECOND TIME. You said the same thing 3 times in one paragraph. I was hoping you were badly trying to meet the minimal word count necessary for this blabber to count as an aeticle but then you say:

"You see, by trying to search for Africa, the White Man has been destroying Africa! Yes, Toto. Yes."

Is this sarcasm? Is this an edgy commentary on "pple taking pc too far"?? Is this you honest attempt ad a white man, trying to tackle a topic that you are sorely underqualified to address?? It's bad writing, is what this is.

Also, "people in slovenia agree with me" is not a good argument. Eastern europe is notoriously, openly racist. Rather like saying "see, this person person in jail for serial murder knows the value of life". (As opposed to western europe, where racism is more casual)

And finally: when white people 'search for something', they tend to trample on everything sround them. This isnt even a euphemism. Centuries 13 through 19 (and NOW, if we're going to be technical) have this thing called 'colonialism'. How about you use your amazing computer, which contains coltan (while we're talking africa and colonialism), to access this wonderful new doodad called the internet for more than porn and racist nonsense like this, and do your reseaech.

Again, i cannot tell if this is bad satire, or bad journalism. Either way.

Little Earl said...

Well I liked it.