The song was written by Toto member David Paich while experimenting with his new keyboard, the CS-80. He stumbled upon the brassy sound that would become the song’s famous opening riff and spent about six months refining it before showing it to the band.
At first glance the lyrics seem like a simple love story between a man and a woman, but it is actually about Africa itself. In an interview from 2018, Toto member David Paich explained that the song was written to express his love for the continent of Africa and the feeling of mystery and vastness it invoked in him.
In the song, the singer is flying into Africa to meet his lover for the first time in months. As he waits in the airport arrival hall, he hears a whisper in his ear of an old man speaking about the land and its people. The old man tells him that he will discover his own truth by visiting the place.
The singer came to Africa in the romantic belief that he would be able to gain some ancient wisdom long lost in his own materialistic modern society. But what he found was a different culture that forced him to rethink his own values and to undergo a journey of self-discovery that would change him forever. The sweeping sounds and mystical imagery of Africa were there to help him in his quest for authenticity. The African experience isn’t a quick fix but rather a long and winding path of personal transformation.