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Toto’s ‘Africa’ Will Play Forever—Or at Least Until the Next Windstorm—in the Namib Desert

An art installation is playing an endless loop of the 1982 earworm in an undisclosed location in the desert along Africa’s southwest coast

(Max Siedentopf)
smithsonian.com

Since the soft-rock, synth-heavy “Africa” was released in 1982, the Toto masterwork has made appearances on countless television shows, internet memes, and, as of late, been reimagined on the airwaves by the likes of Weezer and Pitbull. Now, the Karaoke standby that you either love to love or love to hate is set to play on an endless loop in the continent of Africa, in the nation of Namibia, specifically.

Sarah Cascone at artnet News reports that Namibian-German artist Max Siedentopf is behind the new sound installation, which he installed in an undisclosed location in the Namib Desert.

Fittingly called Toto Forever, it uses a solar-powered MP3 player hooked up to six speakers situated on pedestals to broadcast the kalimba-heavy song into the surrounding dunes.

The catchiness of the song inspired Siedentopf to create the work; he genuinely can’t get "Africa" out of his system, telling Cascone that he personally has listened to it more than 400 times. He decided a fitting way to pay tribute to it was by letting it play on forever in Africa. “Some [Namibians] love it and some say it’s probably the worst sound installation ever. I think that's a great compliment,” he tells BBC News.

Anyone hoping to track down the installation will likely need to acquire a leave of absence from work first; on his website, Siedentopf indicates its “approximate location” by circling the entire Namib Desert in red. “The installation is supposed to be a bit like a treasure that only the most loyal of Toto fans can find,” he tells Joshua Bote at NPR.

There’s an apparent irony to the installation. The looping song’s chorus, which crescendos to the line “I bless the rains down in Africa…,” plays on in what Britannica defines as an “almost rainless area." Then again, that might make the Namib Desert the perfect location for a song that was never really about Africa at all. According to Michael Hann at The Financial Times, the song lyrics were penned by Toto keyboardist David Paich, whose obsession with the continent was based off of stories he heard from former missionaries that taught at his school and images he saw in National Geographic. Paich reportedly wrote the song from the point of view of a woman flying to an unknown part of Africa for the first time to meet a missionary and imagining what it would be like. “It’s crucial that it’s not a song about Africa, but about the stew of ideas and half-truths from which we create our own romanticized notions of place,” writes Hann.

This is just the latest place the ’80s hit has showed up. In an oral history on the song, Billboard’s Andrew Unterberger writes that the earworm “is arguably more popular with millennials today than it ever was among the MTV generation.” While a complete list of the song’s appearances in recent years might be impossible to chart, it’s been sung by water activists outside the White House, performed on fruits and vegetables, played by “Bongo cat,” and now, of course, put on a relentless loop by Siedentopf.

If the installation's endless playback of "Africa" has you taking pity on any desert creatures forced to listen in, the artist admits the installation's endless loop isn't quite so endless. Despite selecting durable sound equipment for the installation, the harsh conditions of the Namib will likely destroy Toto Forever long before forever actually hits.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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