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Sugar Man ~ Sixto Rodriguez

December 4, 2013.Oliver.0 Likes.2 Comments

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There’s a saying contemplating about the significance of a prophet in his own country. Talking Rodríguez onto such an imaginary pedestal might be sheer exaggeration, but the different perception of his music seems almost preposterous. While his two releases in the early 1970s attracted almost no attention whatsoever in the States, they caused tremendous sensation in South Africa where he is considered a legend. However, the lack of success back home became sort of leg irons, tying him to Detroit where he made a living from demolition work. Instead of sweating on stages worldwide he toiled on construction sites in his home town. Unaware of the fact that across the Big Pond his songs even struck a chord with political activists not far from the Cape of Good Hope where bootlegged copies had to spread his message due to ban of some songs by the apartheid regime. He turned into a living legend without knowing whatsoever about it…

“I felt I was ready for the world,
but the world wasn’t ready for me.”

Bizarre rumours went about the artist’s dramatic death, ranging from onstage suicide stories to drug overdose and mental institution residence. Two South Africans decided to seek out the fate of their musical hero, even more astonished by the fact that the mysterious musician turned out to be a nobody in America. Record store owner Stephen Segerman and journalist Carl Bartholomew-Strydom set out separately to find out the truth and were eventually able to solve the mystery after they got together. They tracked Rodríguez down in his home town where they confronted him with a decent chunk of his own past, a part of an almost ridiculous tale scripted by life – a rather capricious one. The dedicated quest of the two fans inspired Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul who turned “Searching for Sugar Man” not only into a multi-awarded documentary but also put the folk singer back on the map.

“Those turns on the journey,
different twists —
life is not linear.”

Music history did not ignore Rodríguez, but business seemingly did. There’s still a legal maze to tackle when it comes to the royalties which apparently have been withheld for decades while the singer had no genuine interest in pursuing the money. Things may have changed after the rediscovery of his great talent and the re-release of his two albums “Cold Fact” and “Coming from Reality”. Despite being well advanced in years he performed onstage all over the world. He not only returned to the places of his success in Australia and South Africa but also played other concerts in Europe and the United States. 2013 brought him a few gigs at festivals across UK and Switzerland as well as TV appearances across the board and he is even planning another impressive comeback: returning to the studio after more than 40 years in order to record new songs…

“I feel we all have a mission —
we have obligations.”

The heartwarming documentary is an inspiring portrait of a humble man who gave up the dream of living off his music but never stopped playing it. He raised a family including three daughters, obtained a philosophy degree and remained politically active, keen to  improve the lives of Detroit’s working-class inhabitants. At the brink to poverty almost all his life Rodríguez continues to live in the same old house he’s occupied for ages and giving most of his money away to relatives and friends, intending to “pursue my own happiness” as the lyrics of his song “I’ll Slip Away” suggest.

There are probably two groups of people: the ones who feel inspired by the documentary and the ones who still need to watch it…

{header image by Balazs Gardi}

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Categories: Inspiration

Comments (2)

  • Ruth . March 25, 2014 . Reply

    This is one of the best documentaries I have seen from the last couple of years, surprisingly not many people I know have even heard of it. I love it when real life is better than the movies, it’s crazy in this digital age to imagine how a story like his could have even been possible!

    • (Author) Oliver . March 25, 2014 . Reply

      I agree Ruth, such a wonderful story scripted by life… The portrait of a humble man and his music really has soul!

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