‘Africa’ was the third single from Toto IV (1982), the last album to feature founding bass player David Hungate. The song provided the band with their only US Billboard chart number one single and remains one of their signature hits, along with ‘Hold The Line’ and ‘Rosanna’. 1982 proved to be a pivotal year for the band; the commercial success of Toto IV saved the band from being dropped by their record label, and several band members contributed to the writing and arranging of Michael Jackson’s Thriller (Steve Lukather wrote the main riff to ‘Beat It’ and Steve Pocaro got a writing credit on ‘Human Nature’).
After four bars of drums and percussion, the song’s main groove kicks in. Although the main bass line is pretty straightforward, it’s important to keep a close eye on note length in order to make the groove feel right.
Africa’s Hidden Treasures
When the verse appears, we’re in for a surprise or two; although the intro chord progression might seem likes it sits squarely in the key of C# minor, the chord progression of the verse is in B major, with slash chords aplenty. This harmonic shift can definitely catch you out if you’re ever required to busk ‘Africa’ on a gig without a chart… The verse also features a well-disguised 2/4 bar, which I’d missed until it came to actually write things down. This is – in the author’s opinion – a sign of good songwriting; odd meters or uneven phrases should never feel ‘odd’.
As if the previous key change wasn’t enough, the chorus brings another modulation, this time to A major. The vocal hook is underpinned by a vi-IV-I-V chord progression, a staple of numerous pop anthems. Here, David Hungate keeps things almost exclusively to root notes, maintaining the same syncopated rhythmic figure throughout.
The Lines They Are-A-Changin’
Throughout the rest of the song, the bass part gets developed in subtle (and not so subtle ways). Verse 2 shows the same line as the first verse but played down an octave, adding more weight, while the second chorus bass line adds some passing tones to link the chords together (bars 43 and 44).
The bass line under the keyboard solo is an almost note-for-note repeat of the first verse, but David Hungate livens things up during the third chorus (bar 62 onwards), increasing his use of passing tones, slides and rhythmic embellishments.
After four minutes of restrained, supportive bass playing, we’re rewarded for our patience with a chance to step into the spotlight: bar 82 features an ear-grabbing high-register flurry of notes, an idea which is repeated and developed throughout the outro. These fills can be tricky to execute cleanly at tempo, as they require a high degree of fretting hand precision; the 4th intervals need to be distinct and not blur into double stops, while the slides need to sound fluid and relaxed (too relaxed and the fills will sound like you’ve had too many pre-gig beers…).
Hungry for more Hungate?
If you’re keen to dig into more of David’s discography, then Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees (1976) is a great place to start: tracks like ‘Lido Shuffle’, ‘Lowdown’ and ‘Harbor Lights’* all showcase some great bass playing.
*Not to be confused with Bruce Hornsby’s Harbor Lights (1993), which I’ve been revisiting – and enjoying – while writing this, mainly due to Pat Metheny and Jimmy Haslip being very bad men throughout.