What Toto’s “Africa” taught me.
I hate Toto’s song, “Africa.” But it has taught me that you never know what you’ll be known for.
If you were used to this blog being somewhat of a tiny source of wisdom or biblical insight, just skip this one. This is just purely for fun. There is one Bible thing at the end.
For sixteen years of my life, I was a college ministry pastor in Tennessee. We used to serve lunch every Tuesday for college students, and one particular day, I got into a conversation with a young man who was a leader in our ministry who happened to run sound. This will be an important detail later.
For some reason I’ve always hated this song. I don’t know if it hearkens back to the days of 1980s high school dances, where it was one of those horrible songs that wasn’t quite a fast song, wasn’t quite a slow song. In other words, it wasn’t dance-able. Please try and stifle the laughter if you are trying to imagine me dancing.
What I recall about the conversation with this young student was this: He was trying to make a case for how “deep” the lyrics were, something probably about existential angst and what-not. He was 18, maybe 19. You remember those years right? To his argument about how deep the lyrics were, I simply laughed. I made the case that if you listen to the lyrics, they make no sense. Just Google “Toto Africa lyrics.” Read them carefully.
See what I mean?
The guy is obviously confused. For one, he thinks the girl arriving on the 12:30 flight is “salvation.” Good luck.
Or, is the guy saying that the stars guide him toward some sort of cosmic salvation? Good luck with that. Is he into horoscopes?
He interrupts an old man. He says something about “it waiting there for you.” What is this “it”?
I know what some of you are thinking. Ah, this is art. The lyrics can be interpreted on many different layers, and is open to your interpretation. Blah blah blah. I just want something in music that is understandable (and perhaps danceable…stop laughing.)
Let’s keep going.
After the chorus where the guy seems to go all macho and say he could overcome 100 men to stay with the girl, and he takes it upon himself to bless the rains in Africa, we come to the second verse.
Enter the wild dogs.
They are longing for solitary company. So Dr. Dolittle/songwriter can now understand wild dogs and their cries. Wild dog whisperer. Awesome.
WARNING: EXTREME TURN IN LYRICS COMING!
The writer says he must do what is right. As sure as a mountain rises above a plain. But wait, as sure as an African mountain rises like a mythical Greek mountain of the gods above an African national park/ecosystem. Not sure of the metaphor here. (But I’m thinking someone is going to spend some time on this and come up with something that sounds like a 18 year old college student with existential angst).
WARNING: RED FLAG!
Just when you were picturing a mountain like another mountain over a plain, the song gets dangerous. “I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing I’ve become.” Ok, wait.
Let’s just say this. If one of my daughters were to come home and say, “Hey Dad, I just met this guy, and he said to me, “I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing I’ve become,” I’m telling her, “Run. Run far away. Never look back. As sure as a real mountain like another mythical mountain rises above a real plain, you should run far away from that guy.” To which my daughter texts her friends and says, “I think my dad is losing it.”
So the song finishes with chorus, chorus, blah, blah, blah.
A friend recently posted that in three different interviews, the writer of the song gave three different answers about what the song was really about. Hmmm. You think?
At this point, some of you may remember something about the conversation with the student, who was the sound guy at our college ministry. Yeah, about that. So, after the aforementioned argument/heated conversation, said sound guy decided to take it upon himself to play Toto’s Africa after each one of our worship services. I would say a blessing over the students, “The Lord bless you and keep you…” And then it would kick in.
Do do do do-do do duuuu.
“I bless the rains down in Africa.”
This happened, it felt like, for something like…I don’t know…10 years? Maybe more?
Now, what is funny/torturing-to-my-soul, is that some bands have come out with remixes of the song–Weezer, for one. Every time someone remixes it, a former student will send it to me, or post it on our Facebook alumni page. Ha ha.
Or if they hear it at their kid’s junior high dance. Or if they hear it by chance. Or if it came on in the car. Or if they were running far.
To which I want to say, a la Dr. Seuss: “I do not like Toto’s Africa. I do not like it here or there. I do not like it anywhere.”
I thought I escaped this when I moved to a new ministry position in California. And I told my teenage son the story. And he told one of the guys in the youth group…who happens to run sound.
I was especially not-gratified to hear that the ministry I used to serve–The House, Chattanooga, Tennessee–still plays Toto’s Africa after their services sometimes. One of my dear friends who still works there overheard a conversation between two students walking out of the service.
“Isn’t this song like really, REALLY old?”
“Yeah. Wonder why they play it?”
Yes, anonymous young college student. I wonder why anyone plays it.
So the title of this blog was what Toto’s Africa Taught Me. Some of you may be wondering what the answer is. What did Toto’s Africa teach me? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
What did getting in an argument with the sound guy teach me? Lots of things. A whole lot of things.
Oh, and you’ll never know what you’ll be known for.
P.S. Proverbs 6 speaks of six things the Lord hates. I always thought six sounded incomplete. Seven is a number of completion. I have an idea, Lord, for your number 7 thing to hate.
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
20 And a song you can’t dance to, and can’t understand.