Toto’s ‘Africa’: The mother of all memes is waiting there for you

Photo : James Sullivan

 

It was the crossword clue that did it: a nine-letter word for “the region mentioned in Toto’s ‘Africa.’ ”

C’mon, you got this. Just run through the lyrics in the upper register of your mind: “It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from yoo-oo-ou . . .”

How many among us don’t know these words? Whether you’re old enough to have seen Dorothy’s dog Toto when “The Wizard of Oz” was first in theaters, or young enough to know what vaporwave is, you know this insidious, omnipresent song.

Crossword puzzle makers have been providing clues like “Band that sang ‘Africa’ ” and “Toto’s 1983 hit single” for years. But identifying the Serengeti (belated spoiler alert!) not as the “habitat of lions” or “Tanzanian national park,” but a place mentioned in a Toto song — well, to paraphrase the old line about Frank Sinatra, it’s “Africa’s” world. We’re just living in it

In the Internet age, Toto’s “Africa” has proven to be the mother of all memes. There’s the popular Twitter account that does nothing but post the lyrics to the song, over and over again. There’s the trance-inducing trend in electronic music known as “vaporwave,” in which molasses-speed versions of “Africa” have swallowed up all other examples of the style. The song set the throwback tone in the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things” and was a recurring theme of “South Park’s” 20th season. The phrase “ ‘Africa’ by Toto” has become social media shorthand for sheer, unapologetic bliss.

Most recently, there’s Weezer’s reverent cover of the song, recorded in response to a viral campaign launched by a 14-year-old girl imploring the band to do it. Weezer released their version a few months ago, and the band just put out an accompanying video. It’s quite a concept: a mirror image of Weezer’s first video, for “Undone — The Sweater Song,” which itself came out nearly 25 years ago (Ugh). To compound the weirdness, the part of shameless goofball Rivers Cuomo is played in the video by “Weird Al” Yankovic.

In August, the current members of Toto returned the favor, releasing their version of Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” (“Come on and kick me!”). The band, whose current tour hits the Lynn Memorial Auditorium on Nov. 17, still features three original members: keyboardists Steve Porcaro and David Paich and electric guitar hotshot Steve Lukather. Lead singer Joseph Williams, who joined in 1986, is the son of movie composer John Williams.

From the beginning, Toto was a kind of supergroup of relative unknowns. The core original members were all deft session men with impressive resumes. Drummer Jeff Porcaro, who died in 1992, played with Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, and a raft of others before cofounding his own band. Paich, who was also part of Scaggs’s “Lowdown”-era band, is the son of the renowned arranger Marty Paich. Lukather would play on several Michael Jackson albums.

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