Thursday, August 17, 2017

Music Review: Toto's "Africa" Is About Bisexuality (My Theory)

Toto's "Africa" is one of my favorite songs, and it turns out that the song lends itself quite easily to a queer reading. See if you can spot what I mean in the lyrics (or read the lyrics here):

I have always loved this song, but listening to it now, I realize that it actually seems to make more sense if it is about a bisexual man reassuring his insecure girlfriend:

Gonna take a lot to drag me away from you. There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do.

Those are some quotes of the lyrics from the chorus. The first verse is merely about a man waiting for his girlfriend to arrive in Africa (though it does sound like an excuse, for why he stopped the old man). But the entire second verse seems to support my theory.

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

I always took "solitary company" to mean that the restless dogs wished to pair off and mate. "Solitary" and "company" aren't usually put together. The singer certainly has the topic of sexuality on his mind.

I know that I must do what's right, sure as Kilimanjaro rises like a leopress* above the Serengeti.

*(I thought it was "like a leopress," a female leopard, but according to the websites I've seen, it's "like Olympus." My mom, who remembers the eighties like it was yesterday, swears that she saw the lyrics in a magazine, and the word "leopress" was plainly visible. My word processor does not recognize "leopress" as a word, but we have the word "tigress," so why wouldn't we have "leopress" too?
It even sounds like "leopress," in the original music video. I suppose both of them work, though I prefer my version. Then again, the Olympic gods were notorious bisexuals--do a quick search about Zeus and Ganymede, if you don't believe me.)

It is not uncommon for LGBT to have a crises of conscience upon discovery of their sexual or gender identities. Especially if they were raised to believe that what they are is wrong. It's not clear what "do what's right" means here--simply not cheating on his girlfriend with a man, honorably breaking up with her before exploring his gay side, reassuring her that she will not lose him, or even--

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

Oh wow. That got dark quickly. I guess he thinks conversion therapy will work for him. If he needs it, he's probably more than bisexual. And it usually doesn't work in the long run.

So is there any evidence in the music video that is about bisexuality? Unfortunately, I didn't find bisexuality. I found racism.
The video is...problematic, for in a song praising Africa for its inspiring and cleansing effects, the singer's black love interest is killed by a savage native. (What else could her glasses falling to the ground symbolize?) And she is most definitely the love interest, for in the romantic song mentioning "she" so very much, this actress is literally the only woman. Books and a kerosene lamp topple because of the attack, and the singer's life and love, and all symbols of such things, go up in flames.
The "good" African, the black woman, has been westernized, and is sitting at a desk, writing something in the white man's study. (Is she his secretary, taking care of his correspondences for him while he loafs with his books?) But the "civilized" African is killed--defeated--by her violent, untamed counterpart. There is apparently no room in an African's life for both peace and education on the one hand, and traditional tribal garb and way of life on the other. Why not have both, in the same individual? People are capable of both.

So is there any evidence, other than the lyrics, that they wrote this song with the experience of bisexuality in mind? None that I could find.
"Africa" is credited to band members David Paich and the late Jeff Porcaro. And while Paich has an...interesting...history on LGBT matters, there is nothing on Porcaro (except his very sudden and mysterious death at age 38).
In 2003, the band announced that Paich would be undergoing a gender reassignment surgery. Turns out that was a joke--and a bad one. When I saw the announcement while doing research for this article, my suspicions were raised when fellow member Steve Lukather referred to Paich as "he" throughout. If Paich was really a transgender woman, would Paich not have asked to be referred to as "she"? And if they were as supportive as they seemed to be, wouldn't they respect her wishes?
There was also Paich's name on a list of musicians on the site Drowned In Sound, from a poster claiming to be a closeted gay man. The list appears to be of musicians that he believes are LGBT. The list was posted in December of 2008, and it is unclear whether the poster believes Paich is gay, bisexual, transgender, or something else.
There was no other evidence that I could find.
And I could find nothing about Porcaro. But again, his death seems suspiciously young, and band members claim that he was not a drug addict, only an occasional user, so that it probably did not contribute to it. I don't think he would be killed for being bisexual per se, but then again there are some people out there who would take a life because the victim was queer. Perhaps there are some of those people in high places.

And the band does claim that the song was literally about working too hard. That this "thing" the man had become was a machine, an automaton. That could very well be, but a lot of people work too hard, and they don't usually get scared that they are monsters because of it. That seems like a very lame excuse, and a queer reading makes much more sense to me.

However it was originally intended, it makes more sense if it was actually not just about a straight romance or a white person "finding himself" (the writers had never been to Africa at the time they wrote it).
All in all, we may never know for certain what the character of the song wished to "cure" deep inside him, and what thing he had become. But what other thing is treated like this not only in the West, but in many African nations? We do not even treat mental illness like it's both a curable disease, and that it makes people into monsters (or at least, most people should know better). Where else does talk of sexuality, and the words "do what's right," "cure," "deep inside," and "become" fit perfectly together? (Though one doesn't "become" gay that we know of, some people believe that others do.)
I love this song, but it is a very dark song. A man goes to Africa, away from his girlfriend, and has a bisexual awakening, then decides to try conversion therapy, "frightened of this thing that (he's) become."

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