Buyi Zama with fellow Lion King cast member Sandile Gontsana.
Buyi Zama with fellow Lion King cast member Sandile Gontsana.

For the past 17 years, Buyi Zama has called the road home. The 41-year-old Durban, South Africa, native has played the role of the wise, eccentric mandrill Rafiki in Disney’s “The Lion King” since 2002, performing around the world, including in London’s West End and on Broadway. She is currently in the North American national tour, which is at the Boston Opera House through Oct. 27. Despite traveling the globe with the Tony Award-winning musical, based on the 1994 animated movie, Zama said she’s never performed in — or even been to — Boston. “This is the show’s fourth time there, but it’s my first time. I’ve always missed Boston,” she said in a recent phone interview. “All I know about [Boston] at this point is how expensive housing is, so I want to see why . . . what is so special about the city.” Zama, who travels with her husband, Matthew Jessup, and their 16-month-old daughter, Buhlakani (which means “wisdom” in Zulu, Zama’s first language) said she loves playing Rafiki, who she described as “wise, but also very fun.” In the role, Zama said she gets to “laugh from the depths of my soul every night.” We caught up with Zama to talk about all things travel.

Favorite vacation destination? Bali. I love being in a place where they speak a language I don’t understand, as it helps me tune out completely. The people are so, so nice in Bali and it’s a budget-friendly place to visit.


Favorite food or drink while vacationing? I tend to not get too adventurous when it comes to food while traveling, but wherever I am, I try a local fruit or tea. In Bali, I tasted Luwak coffee, which has been called the rarest coffee in the world.

Where would you like to travel to but haven’t? Oh this is a hard one. There are so many places. I’ve yet to travel to Japan, and I’d like to say I’ve been there — and I like sushi. I’d also like to see most — if not all — of Africa. At this time, I’ve only been to five African countries and have 49 to go.


One item you can’t leave home without when traveling? My water bottle. I always need to have water handy.

Aisle or window? Window always. I’m one of the lucky few [who] fall asleep before takeoff — at least that’s what happened before I traveled with an infant — so it’s better to not have people wake me up mid-flight.

Favorite childhood travel memory? We used to travel to grandma’s, which was in KwaDweshula, near Port Shepstone on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast of South Africa. We took two trains and a bus to get there. Now thinking about it, it must have been hell for my mother traveling with seven kids, but it was so much fun for me. I liked the smell of the countryside and I liked bathing in the river and climbing trees.

Guilty pleasure when traveling? I watch the TV show “Charmed” wherever and whenever — the series is loaded up on my iPad.

Best travel tip? Always check the weather forecast for where you’re going and pack accordingly.