Whether it was in POP!, Kasbah, or the privacy of your own bedroom on a Tuesday afternoon, it’s safe to say that we’ve all heard the ‘80s pop classic, ‘Africa’ by Toto. And now, the wildlife in the Namib Desert are listening to the song too: Namibian artist Max Siedentopf has set up a solar-powered sound installation in the desert that will eternally play the tune.
The 1982 hit is already one of the most streamed songs in the world, and it’s very unlikely that the band behind it ever thought it would play for eternity in the continent that inspired the classic song. Somewhere in an undisclosed location in the Namib Desert stand six speakers connected to an MP3 player, with ‘Africa’ on loop as Siedentopf’s latest art installation. Alas, if no one can see or even hear the art, as the Namib stretches across 81,000 square kilometres of southern Africa, is it really art?
It’s very unlikely that the band behind it ever thought it would play for eternity in the country that inspired the classic song
The Namib is the planet’s oldest desert, dating back around 55 million years, and for the installation to survive the next 55, it will have to withstand the elements (even perhaps the rains down in Africa that Toto blessed in the hit song). The reality is that Toto Forever is an installation that is unlikely to last anywhere near forever. The harsh conditions of the desert will wear down the installation and thus it may die before anyone even has the chance to find it.
Despite the fact that the installation will eventually be destroyed by the Namib desert, there are some concerns about how the song could affect the wildlife. The Namib is home to a number of species, including hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, baboons, and several species of antelopes. Siedentopf’s Toto Forever could potentially disturb all of this wildlife, affecting their territories, hunting, and sleep. Although the Namib is enormous, every bit of it is home to species that deserve to live undisturbed.
The harsh conditions of the desert will wear down the installation
Aside from the wildlife that the art installation could disturb, will it actually be seen by anyone else? Often art is a form of self-expression, and does not necessarily need an audience – art can often be just an exploration of ideas. However, this was not the case with Siedentopf. He explained that this art piece was a tribute to the American band and he wanted to immortalise the song. “[I] wanted to pay the song the ultimate homage and physically exhibit ‘Africa’ in Africa,” Siedentropf told the BBC.
One of the great joys of art is the enjoyment its audience can get from it, but as the artist refuses the disclose the location of his Toto Forever piece, there’s no way for us to enjoy it. No one is suggesting that art should stay locked away within a gallery, but the universal accessibility of art is what makes people love it.