The Endless “Africa” in Africa

The Namib Desert is a roughly 160,000 km2 (62,000 square miles) expanse running down the western coast of middle and southern Africa. (Here’s a map.) It’s roughly the size (albeit not the shape) of the U.S. state of Georgia, but if you were to visit, you’re not likely to stumble into anything — it’s almost uninhabited by humans and, for that matter, by any animals more sizable than a large bug; while you may find a few elephants, lions, or antelopes there, even they are few and far between. But if you go visit there, and you’re very lucky, you may discover an audio reminder of where you are.

Because somewhere in the Namib Desert, right now, the song “Africa” by the band Toto is playing. Probably.

Pictured above are seven white pillars located in the Namib. As you can see, there isn’t anything else in the photo that would clue you into where, exactly, the pillars are, and they are — obviously — not naturally occurring. It’s a work of art, created by a German-born artist named Max Siedentopf who moved to Nambia at a young age. In 2019, he decided to create an homage to his adopted homeland, and what he came up with is something that you’ll almost certainly never be able to visit.

On the central pillar is a blue mp3 player and a solar batter; on the surrounding six pillars are six speakers and two more solar batteries. (You can see a close-up of the installation, via Siedentopf’s website, here.) The only song loaded onto the mp3 player is “Africa” by Toto, and it’s set to play on loop. As Siedentopf told CNN, “Even though ‘Africa’ by Toto was released in 1982 it is still very much present in today’s pop culture and frequently used for memes and even entire Reddit pages are dedicated to the song. I was very intrigued by this and wanted to pay the song the ultimate homage and physically exhibit ‘Africa’ in Africa.”

If you want to experience it from afar, there’s good news — Siedentopf recorded a 44-second video of the speakers blasting “Africa” in Africa, which you can find on YouTube. But if you want to visit it in person, good luck. As the Guardian explained, “Included a rather unhelpful map on his website, which has the entire 1,200-mile Namib desert circled in red that indicates the location of the installation. Siedentopf seems to have purposely made it hard to find – for fans and authorities alike.”

The work, titled “Toto Forever,” is in an obscure location in order to make it difficult for anyone to destroy the work, so, in theory, “Africa” will keep on playing. Sidentopf told the BBC that he hopes the song will play for “55 million years” — that’s the estimated age of the Namib to date — but understands that “the harsh environment of the desert will devour the installation eventually.” So if you really want to go visit, you probably should get started soon. Just to be safe.

Bonus fact: The lyrics to “Africa” aren’t very accurate. At one point, the singer notes that “I know that I must do what’s right / As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.” While Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa, it most definitely does not rise above the Serengeti. The Serengeti National Park is located 150 miles (250 km) from the mountain, and the mountain isn’t visible from the park. That’s okay, though — Toto never meant for “Africa” to be accurate. According to Toto band member Jeff Porcaro, who co-wrote the song, the lyrics tell the story of “a white boy is trying to write a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.”

From the Archives: The Swimming Pool Hiding in the Middle of the Desert: More hard-to-reach desert art.