Deep Song Breakdown, “Africa” by Toto

Deep Song Breakdown, “Africa” by Toto June 21, 2022

Not just deep, but epoch – and also very complex.

“Hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you”

“It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you”

“There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do”

What may ring as a love song about someone (with references to Africa) at the surface level, upon deeper inspection it’s actually about love of Africa itself – and a critical choice. Band member and co-songwriter David Paich went to Catholic school and was inspired by some of his teachers that had done missionary work there. The missionaries would bless people in the villages, Bibles, and crops – even the rain – hence:

“blessed the rains down in Africa”

The song explores missionary work and celibacy – many not making it to priesthood for this very reason. In Paich’s words, “I wrote about a person flying in to meet a lonely missionary. It’s a romanticized 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.” [1]

“She’s coming in, 12:30 flight”

The song is ultimately about a choice of vocation – an all in on the mission of serving others in Africa or choosing to have a love and family of his own. Blended into the lyrics, however, are more than just this particular story line:

“I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become”

Paich admits the song was also “semi-autobiographical” as he was “being consumed by my work, not having time to go out and pursue getting married and raising a family and doing all the things that other people do that were my age at the time.” [2]

“It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you”

“There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do”

“I bless the rains down in Africa”

The ultimate decision.

“I know that I must do what’s right”

“As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti”

“I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become”

Earlier in the song, he felt “hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you”. Later in the song he felt, it’s “hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you.” Perhaps this is my interpretation, but this subtle and unresolved tension – and cost of the decision (“salvation”, “its gonna take a lot to take me away from you”, he’s “blessed the rains”, he’s all in).

It’s “going to take a lot to drag him away from” Africa and her. 

Life of service, vocation, or profession – or the famous line from Good Will Hunting “gotta go see about a girl”. The philosopher in me loves the tension as it seems there is no solution. Bigger picture, though, why would one have to choose? If the dilemma is priesthood or marriage, there is indeed a choice. But does one need to be a celibate priest to serve Christ and the people of Africa? There are many a Christian missionaries, or even secular charities, where one would could serve in Africa.

In a broader sense of service or profession (whether it be music, medicine, law, or whatever), require a choice to not have a family? In that case, perhaps the singer’s “salvation” will be found in both his music and his family – even if such a road is a hard one. Perhaps more importantly though, would your true love require to give up your vocation and passion for them?

Incredibly subtle and though-provoking song with amazing lyrical genius; still one one all-time favorites.

References

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/jan/30/toto-how-we-made-africa

[2] https://www.songfacts.com/blog/interviews/david-paich-of-toto

Image credit:

Author: Stolz Gary M @ Wikimedia Commons

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