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“Africa” by Toto: The Power of One Cheesy 80s Song in World Travel

The soaring dome of Philly's "Please Touch Museum."

The soaring dome of Philly’s “Please Touch Museum.”

“Rains Down in Africa” by Toto Travels With Me!

One of the few songs I had on my small, cheap computer to travel around the world for 9 months was “Rains Down in Africa” by Toto, so you can imagine how many times I listened to it.

There are some songs that, while cheese-tastic, evoke a magical glitter in the air, and for me, Toto’s “Africa” is sure one of them.

So last Thursday, standing under the soaring dome and 100-foot arches of the “Please Touch Museum” in Philadelphia for my dear Doctor friend’s Hospital “Prom,” when that magical song, “Africa,” came on, I went wild. While dancing, memories flew, fast and furious.

“The wild dogs cry out in the night, as they go restless longing for some solitary company…”

I remembered how I listened to “Africa” on the Thai island of Ko Tao, after I got lost on a mountain for a bunch of hours… listened to it as friends were made and friends parted ways, from Japan to Cambodia

“I hear the drums echoing tonight, but she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation.”

I listened to it through tenuous g-chat connections with loved ones back home, each of us trying to describe the complexity of the situations we found ourselves in.

“I know that I must do what’s right, as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.”

Hooray for Doctor Prom in Philadelphia!

Hooray for dancing during Doctor Prom in Philadelphia!

I listened to it in the sweltering hot hostel room in Bangkok when I decided to stop tourist traveling for a time and volunteer teach in Ghana. I listened to it as I purchased those new plane tickets to Accra, then paid a fee to change the airline as the one I’d selected had a “pesky history of catching on fire,” internet research revealed.

“I bless the rains down in Africa!”

I listened to it in Sogakope, Ghana over and over in my wonderful three months there, and thought how funny and crazy it was to actually listen to “Rains Down in Africa” in… Africa!

“…Coming in 12:30 flight, the moonlight wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation.”

I listened to it on the 24-hour series of flights from Ghana to Germany to Spain to Portugal to meet my brother who flew in to travel with me for a week and help calm my swirling mind!

“It’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you. There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do.”

Doctors dance, too, to Toto's "Africa."

Doctors dance, too… even to cheesy and great Toto’s “Africa!”

I listened to it when I returned back home and decided I didn’t need to be away from people I most loved for a full 9 months in a row again for a while!

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

I listened to it in Boston as I agonized over what job to take and where, wrestling with the drive to leave again, to be outside the norm, to not become “boring and stable.” I was frightened (terrified, really) of becoming this “thing” that was stationary and dull. I thought “Teacher” couldn’t possibly be cool, and returning to one’s hometown couldn’t possibly stay fun.

“Gonna take some time to do the things we never have…”

An artful torch sculpture at the "Please Touch Museum."

A torch sculpture at the “Please Touch Museum.”

And now, a year since I returned home from traveling around the world, I can definitively say that teaching is SUPER cool, and rockin’ out one’s hometown in a semi-stable way is totally cool, too!

Last night in Philly, looking around at the sea of gorgeously dressed doctors dancing to “Africa,” I thought, “Not only are teachers awesome and not at all stodgy like I thought, but Doctors can have rockin’ lives, too!

The live band reached a crescendo and the lead singer’s wrinkled face broke into a grin as he belted out:

“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!”

That cheesy 80s song (with an even cheesier music video!) has spoken to me across continents and across years. It makes magic sparkle in the air and it reminds me: go out and chase adventure, and embrace the romance and excitement of what’s around us right now!


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Jackie H.

Thursday 26th of February 2015

I really like how the song connected you to so many things, people, and places in so many ways because one of my beliefs is that music can help you define yourself and it can connect you to the world around you, and you conveyed that thought amazingly and literally by going from Asia to Africa and back to America listening and meeting people because of that one song that you loved so much.


Saturday 16th of July 2011

I love that song! As I was reading your post I had it playing in my head the whole time. It's so true that certain music can really bring us back to a particular time in our lives, when the lyrics and the feeling of the song just seem to sum up that experience perfectly. My travel song is Southern Cross by Crosby Stills and Nash: It reminds me of the 6 months I spend backpacking around New Zealand, my very first travel adventure. It totally changed my life, and taught me so much. I used to listen to it while walking along the beach in Napier, looking up at the Southern Cross.

"When you see the Southern Cross For the first time You understand now Why you came this way 'Cause the truth you might be runnin' from Is so small. But it's as big as the promise The promise of a comin' day."

Isn't life amazing?

Si @thedepartureboard

Wednesday 13th of July 2011

There can be no doubt that Toto's Africa is an eighties classic, along with Men At Work's Down Under, Matthew Wilder's Break My Stride and Tears for Fears Everybody Wants to Rule the World. These songs always have a place in travelling, when you are feeling low after a tiring journey they pop up on your Ipod and never fail to bring a smile to your face. There will always be a place in my heart for the 80's!

Genesis Lumahan

Sunday 26th of June 2011

I've always been fascinated by 80s music! I've heard Toto's song before on the radio. The pictures look magical.


Thursday 23rd of June 2011

I feel the exact same way ! Like I have to get out of boston and explore the world, meet new people, experience new things, and see how it affects my views on life. I've wanted to move to Los Angeles, California for like years now and I need to go to college in a different state

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