Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Africa

. . . And by "Africa," of course, I mean Toto's 1982 synth-marimba rockin' hit.



According to Wikipedia, which is the only research I'll be doing for this post because screw research, Toto member Jeff Porcaro explains the song thusly: "... a white boy is trying to write a song on Africa, but since he's never been there, he can only tell what he's seen on TV or remembers in the past."


I'm sorry, Toto, but you can't fool us with your fancy words and pretentious analysis. This isn't Harvard, it's America, and we can read between the lines.


"Africa" is clearly about werewolves.


image by jaraden
Sexy, sexy werewolves.

Why would Toto write a song about werewolves? Theories exist, but that's a topic for another discussion.

That bearded guy in the middle clearly has an agenda.
You can't hide forever.
For the skeptics, let's go through the lyrics together. (We don't need to look at the music as it pretty much speaks for itself, starting with the fact that the song is in A major -- the go-to key for the werewolf subculture.)

I hear the drums echoing tonight  
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation  

OK, these first lines of text are incredibly rich, but let's just touch on a couple things. The first line establishes the song's nocturnal theme, immediately giving it a supernatural -- and, specifically, lycanthropian -- flavor, and the call to action, represented by the drums. In a deeper analysis, drums, which are created from the stretched skin of animals, are also an allusion to the belief that wearing the skin of a wolf can cause one to become afflicted with the werewolf curse.

The isolation the protagonist feels is also illustrated beautifully here with the clear psychological separation between himself and the unnamed female character, who represents both the main character's personal relationships and humanity in general. What's especially intriguing is that, whatever this "quiet conversation" concerns, the female character herself is not fully aware of it -- creating even more distance between the main character and the conversation. And what is the conversation about? One can only speculate. Repressed guilt? Fear of exposure? Loneliness?

And, of course, the fact that the main character can hear the drums but his female companion cannot is an overt reference to werewolves' superhuman senses, while simultaneously raising the question, "Do these drums exist in reality or merely in the werewolf's mind?" 

"Anatomy is destiny." -- Sigmund Freud

She's coming in 12:30 flight  
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation  

Here we have a direct reference to moonlight, the catalyst for the werewolf's monthly transformation, but it is juxtaposed with the idea of "salvation." In all likelihood, this is a reference to the medieval belief that exorcism or conversion to Christianity was a remedy for the werewolf curse, although it could just be a broader expression of the prospect of being cured.

What I find particularly fascinating about this passage is what is possibly the introduction of a second unnamed female character, one who has not yet arrived but whose arrival is imminent. She could be the character from the second line, but if that is the case, the werewolf is somehow able to understand what she is experiencing without being in close proximity to her. 

Either way, she is a paradoxical image here; if we are to continue with our focus on Christianity, this woman clearly has angelic qualities, namely her "moonlit wings." However, these wings are reflecting the starlight that would guide the werewolf to his salvation. The question here obviously becomes, "Is this reflecting serving to augment the stars' guiding light, or to distort it?" 

Scholars have made the argument that this second female character is indeed a benevolent force, as evidenced by the second occurrence of the line ". . . it's waiting there for you," in which the word "it's" is changed to "she's," indicating the angel will at last have led the werewolf to his absolution. However, history tells us the argument could be made that this is a punishing angel, and she may even be the cause of the werewolf's affliction; as St. Thomas Aquinas said, "All angels, good and bad, have the power of transmutating our bodies."

image by Emese Fisi Szigetvari
"Destruction, like creation, is one of 
Nature's mandates." -- the Marquis de Sade
I stopped an old man along the way,  
Hoping to find some old, forgotten words or ancient melodies 
He turned to me as if to say, "Hurry, boy, it's waiting there for you."

This is one of my favorite stanzas. Here, the werewolf looks to the old man (the personification of a combination of wisdom and folklore) for assistance, in a direct reference to the idea that certain spoken words can release a werewolf from its curse.  From Wikipedia: "In the German lowland of Schleswig-Holstein, a werewolf could be cured if one were to simply address it three times by its Christian name, while one Danish belief holds that simply scolding a werewolf will cure it." 

The stanza ends with the old man's delightfully playful use of the term "boy" to address the protagonist, which, of course, immediately evokes a man speaking to a beloved canine.

image by Rix Smit
"We cannot despair of humanity, 
since we ourselves are human beings." -- Albert Einstein
It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you  
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do  
I bless the rains down in Africa 
Gonna take some time to do the things we never have

This section, the chorus, is largely self-explanatory, illustrating both the werewolf's superhuman strength and the enormity of his efforts to cure himself. The first line is also a particularly lovely expression of lycanthrope duality -- the fact that man and beast, though enemies, are one being.

Personally, I am intrigued by the rain imagery here. At the surface, the rains appear to represent a healing, nourishing force, but it is my opinion that this may also be an allusion to the superstition that drinking rainwater from the footprint of an animal can give one the power to become that animal. Of course, one can overanalyze these things!

image by Frank Schiemann


"I think we all have to fight the werewolf within us somehow." -- William Kempe

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company  

My apologies in advance for the fact that these lines would be better interpreted by someone more familiar with the werewolf subculture, but here is how I understand them. "Wild dogs" is a term werewolves use to describe themselves within the community, though there is disagreement among scholars as to whether this may be applied to all lycanthropes or simply those currently in "wolf" form (in either case, it is considered disrespectful, though not explicitly offensive, for a non-werewolf to use the term). These lines are especially moving because they are the text's most vivid examples of the protagonist expressing -- albeit obliquely -- his personal anguish.

The phrase "solitary company" is perhaps the most fascinating paradox in the entire song, as the two states of being -- "solitary" and with "company" -- seem at first to be mutually exclusive. In fact, the only way this could occur would be for the "wild dog" in question to be at once an individual and two beings. So we see, these lines are possibly the strongest evidence we have that "Africa" is indeed a thinly-veiled werewolf story. 


"Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy,
love and hate, are necessary to human existence." -- William Blake

I know that I must do what's right  
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

"Hope" has been a recurring theme in this song -- we haven't touched on it before now, but I'm sure you've noticed it as we've gone through the text. Here, at last, we have not only the culmination of the werewolf's determination to find his salvation, but a final acknowledgement of the hope and conviction that have sustained him throughout his journey.

Particularly elegant here is the comparison of Mount Kilimanjaro to Mount Olympus. It's easy to find any number of books and essays devoted exclusively to this subject, but let me highlight the main points. Firstly, comparing the two mountains instantly connects the song's actual setting to a place inextricably tied to werewolf mythology -- Ancient Greece. (While the argument could be made that, even with the comparison, one still has to make the mental leap from modern Greece to Ancient Greece, I contend that the mystical feel of the text will automatically evoke not only the era but, specifically, the mythology of the culture in most listeners.) Wikipedia cites numerous examples in Ancient Greek literature of humans becoming wolves, most notably Lycaon, who became a wolf as punishment for murder.

In a larger sense, the fact that the protagonist is reminded of Mount Olympus -- home to the gods -- shows us that he feels, at least subconsciously, a connection to the rest of humanity. After all, the gods of Olympus watch, torment, and assist man and wolf-man alike.

photo by Gilles 92
"A man's moral conscience is the curse he had to accept 
from the gods in order to gain from them the right to dream." -- William Faulkner


I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become.

This final line, unfortunately, doesn't appear to be related to rest of the song at all. One even wonders if it is, in fact, an error.


4 comments:

  1. This is an awesome analysis. Werewolves...intriguing! Perfect for the month of October.

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  2. I may or may not have done a spit-take on reading your analysis of the final line.

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  3. Cogent argument but I rather believe it's a love song by a werewolf about a vampire.

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