Africa – Toto
Africa by Toto, an acoustic cover performed by Mike Massé and Jeff Hall on 8/7/10, at the Pie Pizzeria in South Jordan, Utah.
How “Africa” Changed Everything
by Mike Massé
I never would have predicted that someday the song people would most associate with me would be “Africa” by Toto. Probably 90% of my fans have discovered me because of the YouTube video of my acoustic rendition with Jeff Hall, performed at the Pie Pizzeria in South Jordan, Utah, on August 7, 2010. And to think that it almost didn’t happen, and that I almost didn’t post it at all….
Some Old Forgotten Words and Ancient Melodies
I first came up with my acoustic arrangement about 15 years earlier, while a music major in college. When that arrangement came together, I was so excited. I loved the song dearly, and desperately wanted to bless those rains at my acoustic shows. It’s an iconic song from my childhood, and the biggest ear worm that ever was (in the best possible way). Once I put that capo on the second fret, it just clicked. I knew I had captured enough of the essence of the song that it would translate acoustically. But the guitar was the easy part.
I chose not to perform it by myself then, because the vocals seemed a bit out of my range. It’s not my style to do things in a lower key. I’ve always done things in the original key or not at all, with very few exceptions. It wasn’t until years later, after I had my tonsils removed and my deviated septum fixed, that my vocal range suddenly increased enough where I felt I could tackle “Africa.” But even then, it was still a challenge.
At the time, I had a standing monthly gig at the Pie in Salt Lake City, which I would usually do alone. Sometimes I would be fortunate enough to be joined by either Jeff Hall (bass/backing vocals), or by my friend Wendy Jernigan (now Ezelle) helping with vocals. Wendy learned “Africa,” and we sang it together on a couple of occasions, with me taking the lower parts. I’d sing unison with her on the first line of the chorus, but was happy to let her handle the high parts as much as possible. (I have an old audio recording of us doing it that way live at a Barnes & Noble café.)
Eventually Jeff started joining me more regularly at the Pie and taking on more vocal duties, especially after I started filming the gigs for YouTube in 2008. So I asked him to try “Africa” with me. He didn’t really “learn” it per se, but followed my chords on my chart (chord/lyric sheet), and sang his best approximation of the harmonies from memory. We would often operate this way, essentially using the gigs as rehearsals and opportunities to experiment, playing songs we hardly knew, especially on nights when the crowds were thin. Our Pie gigs were generally on Monday nights, so the crowds were hit and miss. When we decided we wanted to try to “nail” a song for YouTube, sometimes we’d both go back and check the original to make sure we weren’t too far off on our parts before attempting to immortalize our rendition. But we hadn’t done that with “Africa” yet. We were winging it.
We usually played at the Pie in Salt Lake (the Pie “Underground”, which it literally is). But around 2010, I started doing some weekend early evening gigs on the patio at the South Jordan location. 8/7/10 was just such an occasion. The place was pretty empty, but my friends Jeff and Amy Roskelley were there. (Amy is the blonde woman whose reflection you see in the glass behind me, and Jeff R. is the one who says, “That was great! It was perfect!” at the end.) I’m not certain, but they may have even requested the song. I had recently put it on my request list, to sort of force myself to play it if it got requested. So Jeff (Hall) was “forced” to play it, as well. Jeff had played it with me maybe once before, if that. But neither of us knew it well enough to be comfortable with it, because we just never played it.
So we went for it. We played and sang our hearts out, as we usually did at our gigs, regardless of the crowd size. And when the song ended, we just had to laugh that we’d even finished together or not otherwise embarrassed ourselves. I remember thinking it sounded pretty good at the time. I went back to check the recording, and enjoyed it enough to think it might—maybe—possibly—be worth posting….
To Post or Not to Post
But I really wasn’t sure. It seemed rough. I thought we could probably do better, and I knew Jeff was sort of “winging” his vocals and bass parts to a certain extent. So I did something I’d never done before: I sent the video to Jeff to get his opinion before posting it publicly. He usually trusted me to pick things worth posting, but I was just not sure about “Africa.” Jeff’s response is a matter of some controversy, because we both remember it differently. He remembers discouraging me from posting it at all, thinking we could do better. But I remember him saying, “I dunno, man…” and sort of leaving it up to me (but with considerable doubts). I then sent it to my wife, who was out of the country, to get a second opinion. She responded that she thought I should post it. So I went ahead and did it, and held my breath, hoping people would like it.
The first comment I remember was, “Wow….”. My self doubt took over and I panicked, not knowing if they meant it as a good “wow” or a bad “wow.” But more comments started rolling in, and I realized that people were really responding to it in a big way. People were generally positive about my videos in comments, but this was just something different. I began to understand that we had done something special.
And those comments continue to this day. We’ve heard so many amazing stories about how much our version has meant to people. We’ve had the privilege of being a part of so many people’s life stories and cherished memories. E.g., we performed at a magical wedding in the English countryside where the couple had watched our “Africa” together on their first date. It’s humbling when others consider your music to be a blessing. I am so grateful we ignored our doubts and unleashed our “Africa” on an unsuspecting world.
Please indulge a quick word about my Rush shirt in the video: Rush is my favorite band of all-time, second only to the Beatles. I had seen Rush two days earlier when they passed through town on their “Time Machine” tour. I remember arriving at the venue and seeing the long line to get in. I started following it to find the back of the line, and someone stopped me, “Are you Mike Massé?” It was one of the first times I’d ever been recognized in public—remember, this was before “Africa.” It was a father with his kids, and he explained that they were in town from Texas to see Rush, but were also to see my show on Saturday. I was flattered. But sadly they didn’t make my show after all and had to leave town early. I bet they regret that now…. Heh.
One other “Rush” note: a mutual friend told me he shared my “Africa” video with Neil Peart (the legendary virtuoso drummer of Rush), and that he had really enjoyed my channel. Neil commented happily, “He’s wearing a Rush shirt!” Yes, Neil. A thousand times yes. And I wore it proudly.
So “Africa” has been a huge blessing for my family, since it is often the catalyst to people discovering my music. Every so often it will get shared someplace new, which will trigger a little viral outbreak of new fans finding and sharing it. And I am proud to note that we covered it long before it was the “cool” thing to do…. 😉 I’m sure Toto would smile about being referred to as cool at all (since critics have never been kind to that amazing band), but it’s a long overdue description of that song and that band. Just so freaking cool. And they’re really cool people, too.
Mike Meets Toto
I don’t remember how it started, but eventually Steve “Luke” Lukather (the virtuoso lead guitarist for Toto) and I began exchanging emails, where he said he really dug our version and thanked me for covering it. He said people were sharing it with him constantly. (I can relate! People always share “Africa” covers with me now….) He also said he would be happy to invite me to a show the next time Toto passed through Denver. So I got my chance on August 30, 2015, when they came to Littleton, CO. I got free tix and backstage passes and got to meet the band. It was a thrill to meet Luke. He is a freaking legend, a musical beast. In his career, he played on everything and influenced everybody. Toto was the backing band on much of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” e.g. But I was not prepared for what happened when I met David Paich, the one who wrote “Africa”….
Luke introduced me to David, and I was so honored to meet the man behind the song. But I did not expect him to seem excited to meet me or even know who I was. The greeting I got blew me away, and still gives me chills to this day, just thinking about it. David said he was so glad to meet me. And then he said three things that I will never forget. He said, 1) Thank you for covering my song. (Can you imagine that?) He said, 2) you sing it better than we do. (Can you imagine that?!?) And then he said the thing that blew my mind the most—he said 3) whenever he has someone over to his house, he shows them our cover. CAN YOU IMAGINE THAT?!? The man responsible for “Africa” had heard our cover, and liked it so much that he shares it regularly with friends. I was stunned. I will never forget that day. And yes, I tell that story all the time. Wouldn’t you? 🙂
At that show, I also got to see David Hungate again, the original Toto bassist on “Africa,” who had recently come out of retirement from live shows to rejoin the band on that tour. David had been a staple on the Nashville studio musician scene for decades since leaving the band. And I got to see Shannon Forrest again, their amazing drummer. A year earlier I had recorded a studio CD of covers called “Something” at Peter Frampton’s studio in Nashville. We recorded 12 songs in one day, and I was lucky enough to have David and Shannon, the Toto rhythm section, as my rhythm section for the project. And yes, we did “Africa.” 🙂
A year later I got to see Luke again backstage (with my sister Marianne this time) when he passed through with Ringo’s All-Starr Band in 2016, and then again recently in 2018 when Toto came back to Littleton, CO. This last time I got to bring the whole family as the band’s guests and bring them backstage. And I got to meet Steve Porcaro, the other founding member/keyboardist who had recently cited our cover as his favorite, in a Yahoo! Music article about the recent resurgence of the song and the many covers out there (like Weezer, etc.).
While I haven’t had the pleasure of performing with Toto, I did get to perform “Africa” and some other Toto classics with Bobby Kimball, the original lead singer of Toto (he sang the high parts in “Africa”) at a veterans benefit event in San Diego in May, 2015.
So I truly bless the rains down in “Africa” with my whole soul. I’m certain I would not have been able to quit my day job as a public defender and move to Denver to pursue music full time without it. That song literally made my dreams come true. And I still dream: I hope someday to get a chance to perform it with Toto. And I’d also love to perform it in Africa, at some point. Perform it with Toto in Africa? OK, that’s just getting greedy. But a boy can dream. 🙂 Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you….
“Africa” will always be my signature song. (Note to self: when picking a signature song next time, make it something a little easier to sing.) But seriously, while it’s always a challenge, I never tire of the crowd reaction at the end. It’s the feel-good song we all need right now, more than ever. I’m just grateful to be a part of the “Africa” story in my own small way. It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you, “Africa.” Thanks for the amazing song, Toto.
4 October 2018
Africa – Toto Chords/Lyrics
(David Paich/Jeff Porcaro)
Note from Mike: I play this capo’ed on the second fret, so while the song is actually in B, I play it in A.
Africa Toto Key: A G F#mBm A C#m F#m I hear the drums echoin' tonight F#m/E G/D Bm7/E F#m G F#m Bm And she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation A C#m F#m She's coming in twelve thirty flight, F#m/E G/D Bm7/E F#m G F#m Bm The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me toward salvation A C#m F#m I stopped an old man along the way F#m/E G/D Bm7/E F#m G F#m Bm Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies A C#m7 F#m G F#m Bm He turned to me as if to say, Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you CHORUS: Em C G D Gonna take a lot to drag me away from you Em C G D There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do Em C G D I bless the rains down in Africa Em C G Bm D Em D/F# G Gonna take some time to do the things we never had, oo--ooh The wild dogs cry out in the night As they grow restless longing for some solitary company I know that I must do what's right Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti I seek to cure what's deep inside Frightened of this thing that I've become CHORUS: Em C G D Gonna take a lot to drag me away from you Em C G D There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do Em C G D I bless the rains down in Africa Em C G Bm D Em D/F# G Gonna take some time to do the things we never had, oo--ooh Instrumental half verse Hurry boy, she's waiting there for you CHORUS: Em C G D Gonna take a lot to drag me away from you Em C G D There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do Em C G D I bless the rains down in Africa Em C G Bm D Em D/F# G Gonna take some time to do the things we never had, oo--ooh