The Ongoing Legacy of Toto’s ‘Africa’
Ever since the release of Toto's "Africa" in 1982, the song has gone on to a life of its own in cover versions, hip-hop samples and viral videos.
The song was originally part of the band’s massively successful album Toto IV album and the hit they needed to keep their career moving. After scoring initial success with 1978’s self-titled debut, Toto failed to reach similar heights with their next two albums. Their record label was getting restless, as guitarist Steve Lukather revealed in an interview with Billboard. “[Toto IV] was a do-or-die record for us," he said. "[The label] even came out and said, ‘If you guys don’t pull one off on this, it’s over. That’s the end of your contract.”
With pressure mounting, Toto managed to make the biggest album of their career. Toto IV sold more than 12 million copies worldwide and won six Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. Its lead single, “Rosanna,” was also a major hit, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But “Africa” took things to a whole different level.
Watch Toto's 'Africa' Video
“As a kid, I’d always been fascinated by Africa,” singer David Paich remembered during a 2018 interview with The Guardian. “I loved movies about Dr. Livingstone and missionaries. I went to an all-boys Catholic school, and a lot of the teachers had done missionary work in Africa. They told me how they would bless the villagers, their Bibles, their books, their crops and, when it rained, they’d bless the rain. That’s where the hook line – 'I bless the rains down in Africa' – came from.”
Though Paich had confidence in the lyrics, his bandmates were less enthusiastic. “I thought the song had a brilliant tune,” recalled Lukather. “But I remember listening to the lyrics and going, ‘Dave, man, Africa? We’re from North Hollywood. What the fuck are you writing about? ‘I bless the rains down in Africa?’ Are you Jesus, Dave?"
Synth player Steve Porcaro took it one step further. “I didn't think it should be on the album," he said. "Now, that's not to say I didn't kill myself on it -- I worked very hard on 'Africa.' But all along, I never thought it should be on the album. I just didn't think it fit, I didn't think it was us.”
Despite initial reservations, “Africa” was eventually included on Toto IV, and it became the band's only No. 1 single. But its legacy is reflected in its longevity as a pop-culture phenomenon. Over the years, it’s appeared in popular TV shows, been sampled by rappers and used in viral videos, while Toto's original version has notched nearly 270 million streams on Spotify.
So, get ready for a trip through the Ongoing legacy of Toto's "Africa."
Nas, "New World" (1999)
Nas was the first hip-hop artist to sample "Africa" when he incorporated it into this deep track from 1999's Nastradamus.
Howie Day (2000)
Singer-songwriter Howie Day, best known for his 2003 hit “Collide,” routinely made “Africa” part of his set lists in the early '00s. Stripped down to only vocals and acoustic guitar, this version lacks the percussive rhythms and soaring harmonies that most people associate with the song.
Ja Rule, “Reign” (2002)
Released on rapper Ja Rule’s 2002 album The Last Temptation, “Reign” sampled the synth line and beats from “Africa.” The music video features a cameo from Patrick Swayze.
Xzibit, "Heart of Man" (2002)
The same year Ja Rule released "Reign," Xzibit used the same keyboard hook on his own "Heart of Man." The track appeared on his album Man vs. Machine.
JoJo, “Anything” (2006)
JoJo was born in 1990, seven years after “Africa” was released. Still, that didn’t stop the pop singer from sampling Toto’s song for her 2006 single “Anything.” It received modest airplay, hitting No. 38 on Billboard’s Pop Songs chart and No. 21 on the U.K. Singles chart.
Before Donald Glover created the hit TV show Atlanta and took on the role of Lando Calrissian in the new Star Wars movies, he was one of the lovable junior college students on the sitcom Community. He joined costars Danny Pudi and Betty White for a version of “Africa” that combined the original with a lesson in anthropology.
Wiz Khalifa feat. Curren$y, "Huey Newton" (2010)
For his 2010 song about the joys of getting high, Wiz Khalifa sampled the rhythm and keyboards from "Africa." However, the track drew criticism in hip-hop circles for using the name of the Black Panther co-founder while not promoting any aspects of his agenda.
Mike Massé and Jeff Hall (2010)
Massé and Hall are two attorneys turned YouTube stars. Often referred to as “Two Guys in a Pizza Joint,” the duo record acoustic versions on their favorite songs at their local pizzeria in south Utah. Their performance of “Africa” is their most popular video to date, having been watched nearly 10 million times.
Pop-punk outfit Quietdrive recorded their high-octane cover of “Africa” as part of their Your Record / Our Spin release.
Relient K (2011)
A Christian rock band with crossover appeal, Relient K have built a loyal and passionate fan base over their 20-year existence. In 2011, they released an album of cover songs titled Is for Karaoke. “Africa” was the lead track.
Jason DeRulo, “Fight for You” (2011)
R&B singer Jason DeRulo has made a long career borrowing from other artists. Everyone from Heart to Harry Belafonte to Heavy D have been sampled in his songs It was just a matter of time before "Africa" appeared in one of his tracks. "Fight for You" was the fourth single released from DeRulo's Future History album. It peaked at No. 83 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while going Top 10 in both Australia and the U.K.
'Family Guy' (2012)
In a 2012 episode of Family Guy titled “Internal Affairs,” viewers learn that Joe and Bonnie Swanson met when she was dancing in a strip club. Her performance song of choice was “Africa,” and as they struggle to save their marriage, it plays a pivotal role in bringing the couple back together.
Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake (2013)
The bromance between Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake has had many musical moments. In this Tonight Show sketch, the two play pubescent summer campers too excited to sleep. Instead of going to bed, they decide to sing “Africa.”
Foster Farms (2013)
As part of their "Amazing Chicken" campaign, Foster Farms released a series of commercials featuring animatronic chicken clucking their versions of famous '80s songs. “Africa” was one of the tracks.
St. Lucia (2016)
Indie pop group St. Lucia often mix a cover of “Africa” into their live performances. Singer Jean-Philip Grobler grew up in South Africa and recalls hearing the song at an early age. “There was one particular advert for, like, the most popular South African beer brand, which is called Castle Lager. And, if I remember correctly, it used “Africa,” and it was just like a very stirring advert of people in South Africa doing what South African people do.”
'South Park' (2016)
In Season 20 of Comedy Central’s hit show South Park, it was impossible to avoid Member Berries. These small grape-like fruits talked in high voices and reminisced upon fond pop-culture memories. Their favorite song was “Africa,” a tune they performed in concert at the White House.
'Stranger Things' (2016)
In the very first episode of Stranger Things, teenagers Steve and Nancy make out while listening to “Africa.” The Duffer Brothers, creators of the hit Netflix series, were very clear about wanting to use the song in their show. “There’s something that’s just magic about this song," they said. "It's always made us feel happy and cozy and safe. It’s just incredibly transportive. And the love for the song is not fueled by nostalgia or irony; it really works with anyone of any age. It’s everything we wanted our show to be.”
Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell (2016)
Hollywood celebrity couple Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell recorded their own music video while visiting Africa on vacation. According to the YouTube description (written by Shepard), “This was our last trip before having kids. Our sole objective was to rage hard and honor Toto properly.”
Bacall + Malo ft. Prince Osito (2016)
In 2016, Swedish DJ Bacall teamed up with Malo to create a new version of "Africa," with some Jamaican toasting courtesy of Prince Osito. The song hit No. 11 on the Swedish pop chart.
Just because "Africa" is associated with yacht rock doesn't mean you can't headbang to it. Cleveland-based metalcore band Affiance covered it in 2016, with the original's tinkling keyboard riffs being replaced by distorted guitars.
Brad Davis (2017)
For the second volume of CMH Records' Pickin' on the Biggest Hits of the '80s series, veteran bluegrass musician Brad Davis created a bluegrass interpretation of "Africa." Steve Lukather was impressed: "Of all the renditions of our song -- and there are many -- Brad Davis has taken it to a place I never expected in the coolest way."
Leo Moracchioli feat. Rabea & Hannah (2017)
Musician Leo Moracchioli runs a recording studio in Norway called Frog Leap Studios. There, he records and uploads covers of his favorite songs to YouTube. For his metal version of “Africa,” he was joined by singer Hannah Boulton and guitarist Rabea Massaad. It’s received more than 13 million views.
The Floppotron (2018)
As highlighted on UCR, a different viral version of "Africa" wasn't performed by humans but by a collection of outdated computer equipment. The Floppotron -- comprised of 64 floppy disc drives, eight hard disks and two optical scanners -- emulates the original song in surprisingly effective fashion.
Deserted Shopping Malls (2018)
The closing of shopping malls across the U.S. led one YouTube user to combine footage of deserted malls with what it would sound like if "Africa" was playing over the PA system, complete with slight distortion and reverb added for maximum effect. (The same treatment was given to Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure" and the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows.")
Volvo Door Open Alert (2018)
Every car has an alert that goes off when the door is open and the keys are in the ignition. But what if you don't like that chime and would prefer to hear "Africa" in its place? Chris Ng made a video of himself modifying his Volvo to make an 8-bit version of Toto's hit the new sound.
An Out-of-Key and Off-the-Beat Version of 'Africa' (2018)
A YouTuber by the name of Pluffnub uploaded the five-minute slice of sonic torture, which he achieved by adjusting the vocal tracks so that they’re just slightly out of key and a bit off the beat. Its only saving grace is that it underlines what a well-crafted piece of pop-rock the original song truly is.