Sixto Rodriguez is a songwriter that many have compared to Bob Dylan, but he’s rawer than him. He is more popular than Elvis and The Rolling Stones in some countries, but he is living a much humbler life. A forgotten artists who’s been mistreated by history and had to wait almost thirty years to get the recognition he deserved. Or rather, to know about the recognition he had thousands of kilometres away from his home, where strange stories about his suicide on stage were told. In 2012, the documentary Searching for Sugar Man told his fascinating story.
There are two ways to introduce the documentary Searching for Sugarman:
- Think of Elvis (or another star of your choice), probably the most popular rock icon in the world. An artist you have seen in the Olympus of music since you were born. You may have idolized him. And, most important of all, you’ve always known that he was dead and that you’d never have the opportunity to see him in concert.Now imagine that you live in South Africa, where there is an artist who is more popular than Elvis and The Rolling Stones, who is idolized by the whole country to a fanatic point, and who has a much darker death legend. Now make one last effort and imagine that one day, unexpectedly, the news say that this artist (think of Elvis) is alive , he is living a a humble life, totally unaware of the veneration he provokes and that, as soon as he finds out, he agrees to tour around your country and you will have the opportunity to see him.
- Imagine that your are a hardly known musician, but you manage to publish a pair of albums. They don’t sell much and critics are not good, so your label fires you and you decide to put the music aside. You go on with your life, scraping by working as a bricklayer and ruining your back carrying fridges upstairs and downstairs. Even so, you raise a family and you are happy.Almost thirty years later, one of your daughters finds out that someone in South Africa is looking for somebody who knows something about you and the circumstances of you death. Later, you realize that, while you were growing old living a more than modest existence, around 500.000 copies of your album Cold Fact were sold in South Africa (many more, if we consider illegal copies). You find out that this album inspired some of the best known bands, and everybody recite its lyrics with an almost biblical devotion. Ah! And that some label has republished it without telling you (with all the incomes it implies. While you worked like a dog every single day on the other side of the ocean.
But at the gates of the new millenium, when you’re almost 60, history decides to compensate you and offers you the opportunity to get on South African stages, in front of a crowd that goes crazy with your mere presence, because they can’t believe you’re alive. They can’t believe that the artist “more popular than Elvis” is alive.
Well, all this is true and it falls short of what happened to Sixto Rodriguez. Rodríguez is an American songwriter of Mexican origin who recorded a pair of albums(Cold Fact y Coming From Reality) in the early 70s. They sold nothing and were trashed by critics. The man must have thought: “I better work on something I do better”. He put music aside and… better see the film.
No doubt, it’s worth seeing the documentary Searching for Sugarman only for the story. Not for nothing, it won the Oscar for the best documentary that year. But the soundtrack, obviously Rodríguez’s music and the raison d’être of the film, doesn’t stay behind. I leave all of it as a playlist below, so that you leave it playings, just in case you still have any doubt.
The film’s been shot in South Africa, where in the height of the apartheid, the anti-stablishment lyrics turned Rodriguez into a prophet; and Detroit, his hometown and where he has lived all his life. In fact, ins spite of the success he’s known this past few years, he’s still living in the same house where he brought his daughters up when he was nothing but a blue collar hispano.
Another documentary about the tour
They year Sixto Rodríguez visited South Africa, a documentary about the tour was broadcasted on TV. The full movie is available on YouTube and you can see it right after this paragraph. It contains interviews to him, his family, members of the band that played with him, fans… And a lot of live videos. I recommend to watch Searching for Sugarman first, in order to understand better the road to that moment.
Did you know about the documentary or Sixto Rodríguez’s story? I’d love to read your comments. What do you think about all this? At least, it is curious, isn’t it? Do you think that Rodríguez’s music deserves the status it has in South Africa? Do you think it is unfair how he was treated in his own country? And what about the fact that no-one told him anything about what was happening in South Africa?
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