The show must go on
SOUTH African performer Buyi Zama has been playing Rafiki in The Lion King for over 10 years, and despite surgery this year she shows no signs of slowing down.
SOUTH African performer Buyi Zama was originally contracted for a year when she began her role in The Lion King as Rafiki on London’s West End in 2002.
She has since continued as the joyous character in South Africa, Las Vegas, Taiwan, Shanghai and on Broadway, while creating the role in Australia’s first production in 2003, and returning for the current Australian show.
“I’ve never counted how many shows I’ve done and I’m not going to start now,” Zama said.
The performance schedule did take its toll on Zama during this year’s Melbourne season when she had to take time off following throat surgery, but the Durban beauty is back and excited about the season at Crown Theatre Perth.
“My dream when I was young was to see the world and I get to do that with the show,” Zama said.
“You look at Simba’s journey where he’s young and doesn’t know what’s going on; that’s how I was while growing up.
“There was a lot going on in the country I lived in but I wasn’t really aware because it’s all I knew; I had to be away to see what was happening.”
Zama said despite the schedule of performing eight shows per week, she still loved playing Rafiki, which means ‘friend’ in Swahili.
And her energy is always boosted when she begins the opening song Circle of Life.
“It makes me so happy when I start the show and everyone in the cast is genuinely smiling, not just because they’ve been told to,” she said.
Although Zama does not speak Swahili, she does speak Sotho, one of 11 official South African languages, which features in one of the most amusing scenes in the Disney production.
The scene’s humour is achieved despite the fact the audience has no idea what Rafiki is saying.
“For me, it’s all about a feeling,” she said.
“As a society we’ve stopped listening with our hearts; we want to dissect everything when we should just feel.”
Buyi Zama as Rafiki.