Searching for Sugarman in Manila | a+arax:a

From a+arax:a

Searching for Sugarman is quite possibly one of the most moving documentaries of all time. Winner at the Academy, BAFTA and Sundance Film Festival Awards, the film also won rave reviews and other awards all across the US and around the world. The death of its young, talented director, Malik Bendjelloul, in Sweden last May only adds to the heartbreaking mystique of this project, which is bound to be a classic in filmmaking.

I heard about the film when it was nominated for the Oscar, and nearly watched it during a residency in Spain in January 2013, where one of the fellows was an Academy member and had brought along copies of films he was going to vote on. We never got the chance to watch it, and I must confess I wasn’t that interested in the film, my skepticism mostly coming from my distrust for the Academy, its hype and its marketing machine. I never thought about it until I heard of Bendjelloul’s death. I was in Paris, and the outpouring of emotion in the French online press rekindled my curiosity about the film.

A few days ago, I happened to find a copy of the DVD at the New York Performing Arts Library, and decided to check it out. As I was watching the documentary that evening, about fifteen minutes into the story, I nearly fell off my seat.

As many of you know, Searching for Sugarman is about Mexican-American songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who released two albums in the early ‘70s to resounding indifference, and who sank to obscurity in the US. But not in South Africa, where, unbeknownst to him, he became a leading voice of the anti-apartheid movement, and where he was virtually a superstar. The film takes you through this fascinating narrative of rediscovery and resurrection, and gives you such a deep insight into the soul of this immensely gifted, humble and generous man.

The film plays much of his music as the soundtrack, and this was where my experience became my own personal journey of rediscovery itself. Back in 1971, the year before Marcos declared martial law, my siblings and I were big fans of this unknown, mysterious singer named Sixto Rodriguez. Like the South Africans, nobody in Manila knew who he was or where he came from. In fact, no one in Manila was even aware how popular his music was in South Africa. But he was possibly the biggest hit of that year, at least among a certain crowd of, shall we say, more sophisticated listeners. His single, the heart-rending I Think of You, played every hour on the hour over DZRJ and DZUW, the twin stations that, back then, played the most cutting edge music of the time. These were the only two stations my siblings and I listened to, and I would spend many hours just waiting for the song to come on. I remember my younger sister Diana coming home one day to tell me she had a surprise: I Think of You had just been released as a single, with the equally haunting To Whom It May Concern on Side B. We played the single over and over, never getting tired of it. Diana even learned to play the chords on a guitar, and often sang it to me. Plucking the opening bars of I Think of You became our standard for guitar playing: Diana did it well, but my fingers always got tangled and I sucked. We kept wondering who this singer was: I thought he was probably Filipino, possibly a reclusive artist from Baguio, where all the best folk singers were coming from. Diana managed to find a rather blurry picture in a local music magazine, and I thought that face confirmed my suspicion, that this was some kind of mystery Filipino artist. We even came up with a fantastic theory, that Rodriguez was probably the pseudonym of one of the DZUW DJs, and that his music was produced and recorded by the station itself, for why else would the other stations not play it?

I called my older sister in Los Angeles to tell her of my wonderful discovery. It turned out she and my oldest brother also were big fans of Rodriguez. My oldest brother, who back then had a rock and roll band, in fact used to play his music at the band’s gigs all the time. My sister, who used to deejay at DZUP, the student station of the University of the Philippines, had a copy of the entire album, Coming to Reality, and swears she had played the album so much at the station her copy was virtually all worn down.

The fate of Rodriguez’s music in Manila did not end as gloriously as it did in South Africa. In 1972, Marcos declared martial law and sequestered all radio stations. That put a definite end to any airplay of Rodriguez’s two hits (To Whom It May Concern was already starting to pick up a lot of notice as well). Marcos not only banned rock music, but also portraits of any musicians with long hair, calling the look decadent and demonic. Rodriguez, with his lush, long hair, would certainly have been censored. The military raided the UP campus, and I believe everything in the radio station was either confiscated or destroyed. I never knew, until I saw Searching for Sugarman, that most of Rodriguez’s music was anti-establishment and political, but perhaps the Marcos intelligence people knew, and that was enough reason to put him on the censors’ radar.

That definitely consigned Rodriguez’s music to extinction in Manila. But for years thereafter I continued to wonder who this musician was. I used to keep asking Diana, “Remember that Sixto Rodriguez, the brilliant guy who just vanished into thin air?” We didn’t know about the spectacular myths that sprouted in South Africa about his alleged death; we just presumed this guy probably just decided to stop singing, and wanted to be left alone.

Rediscovering Sixto Rodriguez in Searching for Sugarman has closed over forty years of wondering and questioning for me. I still love the music, anachronistic as it may sound today. These songs were part of the soundtrack of our years of innocence, the final year before the Philippines would be plunged into one of the darkest eras in its history. It amazes me to realize how, back then, we shared nearly the same aspirations as the South Africans, though their struggle was vastly different from ours. We wanted to change the world, we wanted love to reign supreme, and we paid attention to the musicians who told us we could and we should. We would never be so young or so hopeful again.

Eric Gamalinda

Advertisements

Singer / Songwriter

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Blogs, Searching For Sugar Man Film
3 comments on “Searching for Sugarman in Manila | a+arax:a
  1. joanfrankham says:

    It is a wonderful documentary, I too listened to his music all the time in the 70s, and was so moved when I watched the documentary a few days ago. Wonderful post.

  2. elaineporteous says:

    WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    What a great addition to the whole Rodriguez story – !!!

    I can only imagine this person ( a+arax:a)’€™s surprise when he watched Searching for Sugarman recently

    I certainly remember my reaction to the whole thing, sitting in Miami 40 years after being one of ‘those’€™ fans back home in Cape Town – chills

  3. Jeane Harris says:

    I just recently discovered Sixto Rodriguez last year in Pasadena at Laemmle’s theater.
    It’s kind of an art-house as it shows indie films and non-blockbusters.
    I didn’t go to see “Searching for Sugarman” is I knew nothing about it. I read the synopsis of all the films showing at the theater that day and Sugarman intrigued me the most. Five minutes into the film I was hooked hopelessly. The mystique that surrounded him completely drew me in and the musical soundtrack with his songs blew me away. When the film was over I stood up and clapped with other people also following suit. I told everyone I knew that I just saw the next Academy award documentary winner. The friends who went to see it absolutely adored this documentary.

    His career started to increase slowly but surely. I kept hoping that he would perform in Los Angeles and was so happy when his tour included an LA Theater. Unfortunately, I was ill and was not able to attend. But then he came back to LA and performed at the wonderful Orpheum theater in downtown Los Angeles. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to be able to be in the audience to see this incredible and humble man perform. His set was wonderful and he sang a few additional songs that I wasn’t aware that he would even be interested in singing, some Sinatra songs in fact. I must’ve taken over a hundred photographs and treasure each and every one of them. I will post them soon on my Facebook page as I’ve been a little lazy lately. I have all of his albums including the best of and the soundtrack for Sugarman.

    If you get a chance to see him perform live, it will be a very special treat. Thank you Sixto, you are amazing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Rodriguez Info
SugarMan.org on Facebook   SugarMan.org on Twitter   SugarMan.org on Youtube

Subscribe to SugarMan.org's Blog via RSS   SugarMan.org Daily News   SugarMan.org on Tumblr
Mabu Vinyl On Mixcloud
Mabu Vinyl on Instagram
War On Drugs Some new records on our all of good stuff Mabu's wall of Good Records. Come have a look #records #newarrivals #CapeTown #recordstore New Rodriguez t-shirt design in stock now 👕 #mabu #vinyl #design Album artwork by Roger Dean on display today 🖌 #yes #uriahheep #magnacarta #rogerdean #vinyl

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,133 other followers

%d bloggers like this: