Toto and International Development

This is a non-academic and non-theory based article, written more about my music interests but still relating to one of the topics here, namely that of International Development.

Many music groups–bands, have messages played messages in the lyrics of their songs, and most of the time, the predominant theme is that of love. Some bands such as the Beatles have touched upon national and international issues; Lennon, Harrison and McCartney in particular (especially in their solo careers). In my generation, this may seem to have died down a bit. However, one band, Toto placed international issues, in this case those that consisted as part of international development in many of their songs.

I’ll leave you to read the Band’s history but launching into the subject, the first most distinct time they addressed the theme of development was in their first song and instrumental, “Child’s Anthem” (which was released in their début album, “Toto”.) Child’s Anthem is a rock instrumental which according to this, was inspired by the United Nations (UN)’s Year of the Child–1979, the year when the song was released. Then came Toto’s most famous song, “Africa”. “Africa”‘s lyrics is widely open to interpretation. Some say is just another love song with the theme and music set in the African background. Some say it is a man unable to let go of his past while being drawn by the future (“The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation” and “Hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you”)–see this detailed interpretation.

It is however through this background that I see the strong related (however remotely) to the topic of development. As mentioned by David Paich, “I was about 11 when the New York’s World Fair took place, and I went to the African pavilion with my family. I saw the real thing; I don’t know what tribe, but there were these drummers playing.” As much or as little Paich was fascinated with Africa and/or development then, the lyrics and music threw the focus on the Africa, especially during the 1980s when the continent was reeling from the backlash of neoliberalism. So forget songs like Jackson’s “Heal the World” (which ironically featured David Paich and fellow Toto member Steve Porcaro on the synthesizers and Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro drums), Geldof’s “Do they know its Christmas Time?” and others.

If “Africa” wasn’t a clear indication that Toto wrote songs about international affairs or development, their Seventh Album, simply named, “The Seventh One” was filled with several songs that indicated such topics. “Mushanga” is not a usual Western or American Name. At first glance, the song again is a simplistic love songs, aimed at some foreign girl. Yet it depicts adventure into another country, possibly Jamaica–“a Kingston girl with no shoes”. The possibility of an indication of development comes with a deeper reading of certain lines:

“You smiled though you were suffering, I didn’t understand, then”

“They sang of diamonds that came from their mountains
And loss of lives mining white man’s gold”

Ok, perhaps try this other song, “Only the Children”. Basically, it could be said that it is about children suffering while adults or parents argue or even enter through a divorce. It could also be hungry or poor children in the world being ignored while rich nations squabble who should give how much aid. These could be seen through lines like:

“Why do those who have plenty
Ignore those with nothing at all
Why must the ones just beginning
Stand with their backs to the wall
They keep asking for answers
And we keep on telling them lies”

Another song down the album list is “A thousand years”. It is pretty clear that the lyrics show one looking back at what has occurred in history–all the troubles, disagreements, wars etc and wishing for a place away from all this.

“Day after day, I feel myself slowing down, what does it mean?
The air has changed, it’s getting harder to breathe, or so it would seem
Sail me away to a distant shore, where everything’s fine”

The most evident song relating to development in this album however is “Home of The Brave”, and yes the title is taken from the American National Anthem, “Star Spangled Banner”. The song depicts global troubles (but does not specify what) and that political negotiations have not worked–“leave the politics behind boys, they’re not working anymore”. The song sates that “help is on the way”, to save you, as an individual. In the chorus, the lines link very much to the individual’s freedom (from tyranny, oppression etc), thus broadly linking to development:

“You still have the freedom to learn, and say what you wanna say
You gotta remember, don’t let ’em take away
The land we call the home of the brave”

Other lines clearly depict conflict affecting the individual:

“So you’re trying to shake this feeling, that trouble’s right outside the door
You lie awake each dark night, like a time bomb wound up too tight
A storm in waiting, just offshore – tell me what we’re waiting for”

Clearly, the song is about global problems and how one can stand up high and still fight to be free. In fact, when it is performed live at any Toto concert, Steve Lukather would always introduce it as a song about “World Peace”.

Speaking about that topic, the next album, “Past to Present”, has a song addressing the same issue again, titled “Can You Hear What I’m Saying”. Almost every line in the lyrics describes the call for peace. Again, while not directly development, the topic is close to it. The best line from the lyrics: “Africa, America, Eurasia, Latin Africa”, indicating a reference to the United Nations.

What could possibly be the most distinct song written by Toto members about international development appears in the album, “Falling in Between”, the song being “Bottom of your soul”. You can already feel it through the introducing beat/rhythm, plus this stanza:

“Where are the children we lost not long ago
Feel for the Mothers who weep for them
I pray for the Fathers who are standing by their side
In their world of pain and suffering”

In fact, through a discussion on the now defunct Totonetwork forum, I discovered that the song was written about the conflict on Darfur. More comes about in the chorus:

“Why is it always the ones that we love
Are the ones that will never come home
Why must all of the bridges we cross take their toll”

Thus, some of Toto’s songs have much to do with topics relating to international development.

PS: If any one else comes across other Toto songs which I failed to list, inform me.


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