It starts with the unmistakable drumming, then the sound of the keyboard. As the vocals come in, either your eyes are rolling into the back of your head or you are ready to burst into song- it’s “Africa” by Toto. You can’t even remember the first time you heard it because you’ve been listening to it your whole life. Now, it’s played at almost every college party you’ve been to this semester.
Africa has entered the ranks of songs like Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” and countless others. Songs that everyone knows and- depending on your taste- loves, but are at least fifteen years old if not more. But why? What makes this song so popular? Why was a kid in my Communication Research Methods class wearing an “Alexa, play ‘Africa’ by Toto” t-shirt? Why do people use the lyrics as insta captions? I may never know the answer to some of these questions, but I am not the only one asking them. The continuing popularity of “Africa” has been covered by The Financial Times, The New York Post, Maxim, and other publications.
Even Weezer, a rock band most famous for songs like “Say It Ain’t So” and “Teenage Dirtbag,” released a cover of “Africa” in late May and a music video on September 24th starring Weird Al Yankovic.
While I am not inclined to say that the song contains any lyrical genius, the catchiness of the tune and the satisfying melody can help to explain how it has garnered popularity across generations. It may remind our generation of old school 80’s music their parents played for them as kids, giving it a sense of familiarity. For example, my marketing professor recently mentioned how her 20-something-year-old son will listen to The Beatles as if their songs haven’t been around for over 50 years. But even then, their lyrics are more relatable. How many people can relate to the rain in Africa? Jeff Porcaro, one of the songwriters, said that the lyrics of the song are a white boy’s attempt 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.”
My search for answers has come up fruitless, there’s no real rhyme or reason as to how the song has maintained popularity. But what I do know for sure is that it is not going away any time soon.