Last month, rock band Weezer performed a remarkable bit of fan service: taking a request from a fan’s Twitter and granting it. A user called, appropriately, “Weezer Cover Africa by Toto,” has been badgering the band since December of 2017 to do just that. The person behind the account is 15-year-old Mary from Ohio, who is both a serious fan of Weezer and of “Africa,” which she first heard on an episode of “Stranger Things.”
Though the band decided to help Mary out, they had a little bit of fun first, trolling her and covering “Rosanna,” Toto’s bigger hit (it won Record of the Year at the 1983 Grammys ). A few days later, they dropped “Africa”…and watched as it sailed to the top of the iTunes charts. (If you’re wondering, the original reached the top spot in the Billboard 100 back in 1983).
Now, if you know the original, Weezer’s cover is pretty note-for-note. One could argue that Toto, mocked for its smooth pop leanings, actually rock harder than Weezer, especially in the song’s chorus.
But Mary’s obsession with “Africa” doesn’t come out of nowhere. YouTube is full of odd covers of the song.
Here’s a loop pedal and piano version from Peter Bence:
Or how about a choral group’s version, complete with a ASMR-tastic recreation of a rainstorm.
You could also watch a rubber chicken have a go:
But my current favorite is this very enthusiastic Nordic metal cover from Leo Moracchioli and friends:
Why do people more than ever love “Africa”? When it came out it was definitely a hit, but over 35 years or so it’s transcended its cheesy pop status to become a “classic” of pop construction, filled with dynamic changes, multipart harmonies, and a complex arrangement. There’s nothing ironic in loving it.
Annie Zaleski, in her Salon article on the song’s enduring power, describes its world music indulgences and its rhythm:
Without flash or fanfare, “Africa” incorporates congas, marimbas, the gong and other percussion flourishes, giving the song a textured velocity. Underneath it all is a hypnotic groove, resembling a constant, gentle push — one that keeps the song pulsating forward. When listening to “Africa,” it’s impossible to stay still; the song’s innate movement is infectious.
Co-writer David Paich (Toto’s keyboardist) explained the thoughts behind the lyrics in a Grantland interview, explaining they stemmed from his days as a Catholic schoolboy and hearing tales of missionary work:
I had all these things rattling about in my brain when I was writing the song. All these thoughts about priests and young social workers that have gone over there, devoting their lives to helping people, and having to choose what kind of life they’re going to have — whether to keep doing this, what I’m doing here, or can I have a life, get married, have kids, and do that kind of thing. So it was a life choice mixed in with a geographical fascination there.
But as he also says, the line “I bless the rains down in Africa” just popped out when he first started working on the chorus. The verses were written after to explain the mystery of the chorus. Also: the song was added at the last minute, closing off the album, which opens with “Rosanna,” perfect bookends which the rest of the album can’t reach.
And finally, if you’re still fascinated with the song, Rick Beato checks out the individual multi-tracks on his series “What Makes This Song So Great.” By the end, you might just have the answer.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.