Why is Toto’s ‘Africa’–a song with ridiculous lyrics–so popular with everyone?

Sample lyric: "I bless the rains down in Africa"

Album cover.

At last count there were about 140,000 covers of the 1980s American rock band Toto’s song “Africa” on Youtube.  The song first came out in 1982. There’s been all kinds of cover versions, remixes or samples of the song since then.

Of those we could find via some googling, for example, R&B crooner Jason Derulo acted out the “rain down in Africa”-line in a shower. For Canadian singer Karl Wolf (he became famous in Germany or somewhere like that), “Africa” is a sexy woman in a bikini. Some of your favorite rappers also covered “Africa”: On Madlib‘s “Medicine Show #13: Black Tapes,” GZA of the Wu Tang Clan raps over the beat. So has Wiz Khalifa. Other alumni: Indie band Low and  the massive Slovenian a capella choir Perpetuum Jazzile–their video of making rain sounds have been viewed 15 million plus times on Youtube (and that’s just the video they uploaded.)

The readers of musicologist and blogger Wayne & Wax (Wayne Marshall) dug up a Senegalese rap cover, a Ghostface vs Toto remix and a rap over the credits of American TV show, “Community,” by Donald Glover and Betty White.  But fans also get their turn: think of the guy with the Dutch street organ , this German trio, or the Serbian fans who decided to subtitle the original.

You can see where this is going. Just type “Toto + Africa” into Youtube or your video player.

Which brings us to the latest version attempting to go viral: the crew of an oil supply ship (presumably of a multinational company) off the coast of Equatorial Guinea in West Africa (there’s a lot of oil there), decided to lip synch over the original record while tapping out the rhythm with their tools (oil canisters, bug spray, spanners, among others), while one of them filmed and edited a video of the performance over a few weeks.  It’s a piece of unpaid PR for the oil company and for the harmony of multinational capitalism.

The original has also been subjected to serious analysis already–humorist Steve Almond have broken down the lyrics and blogger and musicologist Wayne & Wax (Wayne Marshall) felt inspired to write a long post about the “Africanness” of the actual tune. We’ll pretend to just enjoy whatever new cover version pops up on the internets. It won’t be the last attempt–we still don’t get it–by all kinds of people (including Africans) to cover the song.



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