Musical Treasures


I fell in love with the songs and the music long before I ever watched the movie or the play. The music was captivating, and I was immediately drawn to it the first time I heard the vinyl record play on our 1970s radio. I remember the scratchy sound of the radio’s needle head making contact with the oscillating vinyl record and Julie Andrew’s magical voice singing, “I Could Have Danced All Night ….” The melody and rhythm were different from the mainstream music played on our local radio station, and the lyrics sounded like something from a fairy tale—the type that a ten-year-old me would enjoy. The soundtrack to My Fair Lady jumped to the top of my “favorite songs list” and stayed there a very long time.

My sister Rumbidzai, whom we all call Rambi (nicknamed by a white teacher who couldn’t pronounce her name), is the eldest of five girls, and she is six years my senior. Rambi loved music and the arts. She listened to a wide variety of music, including pop, rock, R&B, country, and classical. Rambi liked the latest songs of that time, but she seemed to have a greater interest in old school music from the sixties and seventies.

She begged my mother to pay for piano lessons because she wanted to study music and eventually write her songs, and she did. Rambi called the most prominent record label in Zimbabwe at that time, called Grammar Records, and said she was a songwriter who wanted to sell her songs to them. The record executive who received that call must have had a good laugh, but he didn’t dismiss this young and ambitious sixteen-year-old. Instead, he advised her to form a singing group, a gospel band, and she did, with her siblings as backup singers! A story for another day.

Rambi had a vast collection of vinyl records, primarily old classics. In those days, if you wanted your favorite musician’s album, you could either buy a vinyl record or a cassette tape, and both were expensive, especially for a teenager. Also, the most popular and current music on the top 100 charts was almost impossible to buy or find in stores. So Rambi decided that she would go for second-hand albums. These were usually older, not so popular, and very cheap.

There was a charity shop in our neighborhood run by the RSPCA. They sold second-hand anything, mostly household trinkets like chinaware tea sets, vases, antique pieces of furniture, clothes, toys, and vinyl records. The merchandise was donated by well-wishers, almost always wealthier white folks. That little RSPCA shop was our haven for toys and just about any “treasure” we could find. Some products sold for as little as ten cents, fifty cents, and a dollar. We (my sisters and our neighborhood friends) saved our pocket money (daily allowance) for a shopping spree at the RSPCA.

If you were lucky, you could find a toy house or doll that another child didn’t want anymore, still in excellent condition. Or a toy piano, a dollhouse tea set, or remote control car. Rambi had no interest in any of these—she bought vinyl records. As a result, she had an impressive collection. It included Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Super Star and Cats. In addition, there was Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Queen, Guns N Roses, Richard Clayderman, Elton John, and My Fair Lady.

Rambi influenced many things we, her siblings, did and liked. She was the cool, all-knowing older sister who was in on all that was popular and trending. Because of her, we listened to Radio Three, a radio station that played the most popular music (pop, rock, R&B, and hip–hop), and Radio One, which played classic, oldies, and not-so-popular music. Most kids our age did not ever listen to Radio One. They considered it “boring,” but we loved it.

And so when Rambi bought her old-school vinyl records, we all enjoyed them and played them repeatedly before switching to Michael Jackson or whoever was top of the pop charts.

That’s how I discovered the soundtrack to My Fair Lady. It was one of Rambi’s treasures from the RSPCA Charity shop. I played all the songs several times, especially my favorites: With a Little Bit of Luck and Get Me to The Church on Time by Stan Halloway, and Just You Wait by Julie Andrews.

I knew the songs were from a movie, but I had never watched it and therefore listened to each song in isolation without knowing the history or the complete picture. So I was left to my imagination, making up my storylines.

It wasn’t until years later that I was able to rent the VHS videotape of the movie. I watched the almost three-hour production with such glee! I instantly fell in love with Eliza Doolittle, played by Audrey Hepburn, but my favorite character by far was Professor Higgins, played by Rex Harrison. I found his arrogance humorous, and the lyrics for “Why Can’t the English?” now made sense to me and had more meaning. Eliza’s father made me laugh when he sang, “With a little bit of luck.” Again, when I connected the song lyrics to a particular scene in the movie, it felt like re-discovering the entire album.

My love for the theater was cultivated by those early years when I listened to the soundtrack of successful Broadway plays like The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Jesus Christ Super Star, and Fiddler on the Roof. I could tell from the singing that there was a story behind each song, and so, as soon as I could get a copy of the VHS movies, I watched them all, but I longed to watch a live play.

I was an undergraduate student in Harare when I had my first opportunity to watch a professional play at the Reps Theater in Harare. It was “Fiddler on the Roof.” I enjoyed the ambiance of the theater, and watching the actors sing and act live was exhilarating. Unfortunately, there weren’t many such productions in Zimbabwe, and if they were, they were usually too expensive for a university student like me.

When I relocated to the United Kingdom, in 2003, at 23 years old, I was able to experience my love for the theater. And because I lived in London, I didn’t have to go far to know about the West End plays and musicals. Almost every double-decker bus in central London had a conspicuous advertisement for a musical or play, all year round. From Mama Mia, Les Miserable, The Lion King, Chicago, and My Fair Lady. I was in heaven! These musicals didn’t come cheap; the tickets were pricey even for a decently paid physiotherapist. And so I began to save my money. I was determined.

The first musical I watched on the West End was … you guessed it, My Fair Lady. I remember how unsophisticated I felt, walking into the theater, not knowing the etiquette of where to go and what to expect. But the moment the curtains opened, I felt at home. I inwardly sang along to every song and mimed the lines to my favorite scenes (I had watched the VHS movie several times over). That experience was much better and more fulfilling than being in any nightclub, house party, or cinema (my more usual weekend hangouts). I felt like I belonged to this posh, upper-middle-class audience until the curtain closed, and I returned to my room in shared accommodation at the hospital where I worked.

With time I watched more West End productions, and when I moved to the United States, I made sure to go to Broadway in New York. I also visited local theaters wherever I’ve lived. In Texas, I enjoyed the Dallas Summer Musicals, in Philadelphia I frequented the Merriam Theater, and in Atlanta, I occasionally go to the Alliance and Fox theaters. And now, I have begun introducing my kids to the theater, and it’s a work in progress.

SPOILER ALERT!! Read only if you have read the book

My Fair Lady and the love triangle

It is no surprise that when it came to creating the character of the protagonist in my book Turning Tables, she (Maita) loves the theater, and in the second chapter, when she is chatting with a smitten Chris, She lights up when he says (lies) that he too likes My Fair Lady. And because of that connection, she warms up to him, and the rest is history. Later on, She introduces her new boyfriend Ade to the West End scene, and unlike Chris, he likes it too. However, much later, when Ade tried to get his then-girlfriend Noma to go to the theater, she was bored and couldn’t stand it, one of many things that he enjoyed with Maita, but failed to connect with Noma.

So there! That’s how my favorite musical is woven into the love story in Turning Tables, and now you know why it’s there— because I love it!

Watch “I Could Have Danced All Night”: