Thank you for your music. 50 years later a new generation of musicians is still influenced by your beautiful songwriting and is rediscovering your songs, that fit perfectly in the crazy world we live in. No matter what happened in the past – your music is immortal.
The two men at the centre of the search for musician Sixto Rodriguez have written the story of their journey. Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew-Strydom authored the book “Sugar Man – the life, death and resurrection of Sixto Rodriguez”, after the success of the documentary film that was made about their quest. The pair share the tale of what they call an ‘irresistible story” about Rodriguez, who was rumoured to have killed himself on stage. Listen to the full conversation (with John Maytham standing in) on CapeTalk’s Breakfast with Kieno Kammies:
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.
Searching for Sugar Man is a brilliant testament to the briefly glittering talents of its director and star
In 2006, an aspiring young documentary maker called Malik Bendjelloul left his job at Swedish state TV and went to Africa in search of material for his first feature. He eventually found himself in Cape Town, where a record store owner told him the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a brilliant Mexican-American singer-songwriter whose two albums, released in the early 1970s, had unexpectedly bombed in the US — but, by some magic, later found an audience in apartheid South Africa, where they sold hundreds of thousands of copies. As a consequence, Rodriguez became more popular than Elvis in the country, and inspired a generation of anti-establishment songwriters.
For years, the store owner explained, listeners in South Africa had presumed that Rodriguez was dead: apartheid censorship laws meant that information about him was scant, and rumours circulated that he’d committed suicide on stage somewhere in America. But then, in the late 1990s, a resourceful South African music journalist called Craig Bartholomew-Strydom started digging — and made an astonishing discovery.
It was hardly surprising that Bendjelloul grabbed this story with both hands and set to work turning it into a documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, named after his most famous song and released in 2012. What was surprising, at least to those who didn’t know him, was that this offbeat debut feature – written, directed, edited and co-produced by Bendjelloul – turned out to be a film of such elegance, poignancy and directorial sure-footedness. It was a hit with audiences and won dozens of awards, including the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2013, and seemed to promise Bendjelloul the kind of long, glittering career that had been denied to his subject.
Sadly, this was not to be the case: earlier this month, Bendjelloul committed suicide back at home in Sweden. He was thirty-six, and working on a project based on the conservationist Lawrence Anthony’s book The Elephant Whisperer.
Director Malik Bendjelloul, whose 2012 documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” won the best documentary Oscar, has been found dead.
He was 36.
Police spokeswoman Pia Glenvik told the Associated Press that Bendjelloul died in Stockholm late Tuesday, but wouldn’t specify the cause of death.
“Searching for Sugar Man,” about the life and career of American singer Sixto Rodriguez, won 2013 docu Oscar as well as awards from Bafta, the IDA, the PGA and the DGA.
Born in Sweden, Bendjelloul appeared on TV as a child and then studied journalism and media production. He produced music documentaries for Swedish television and worked as a TV reporter before leaving to travel in Africa and South America.
He filmed the story partly on an iPhone, and the film was accepted as opening night film at Sundance before it was even finished.
“I was backpacking around Africa and South America looking for stories with a camera. I found six stories and this was one of the six. I thought it was the best story I’d ever heard,” he told the Independent newspaper in 2012.
In 1970, Sixto Rodriguez was allegedly urged by the future chairman of Motown Records to write under “Jesus Rodriguez” to avoid prior contractual obligations.
Those who have seen Searching for Sugar Man might think they know the astonishing tale of Sixto Rodriguez, but there’s an important aspect of the musician’s story that is now coming to light thanks to a lawsuit that was filed on Friday.
As the Oscar-winning documentary detailed, Rodriguez recorded a couple of albums in the 1970s that seemingly were commercial bombs. Unbeknownst to the Michigan-born songwriter was that his songs had made him a star on the scale of Elvis Presley in South Africa. Fans there embraced his songs as anti-apartheid anthems, and only decades later, after Rodriguez slipped into obscurity and had been rumored to have committed suicide, did he triumphantly make it to South Africa to discover his tremendous success.
From Detroit Free Press
Two years after an Oscar-winning film raised questions about royalties for Sixto Rodriguez, a copyright and fraud lawsuit has been filed against Clarence Avant, who signed the Detroit singer to a record deal more than four decades ago.
Rodriguez is not a direct party in the complaint, filed today in Detroit federal court by Gomba Music, which is owned by longtime Michigan music executive Harry Balk. But the musician does stand to benefit if Gomba is successful.
Speaking with the Free Press this evening, Avant denied wrongdoing.
“I think I’ve been pretty fair to Rodriguez all along,” said Avant, 83. “I wish him nothing but the best, because I think he deserves it. I admire the nerve.”
Gomba said it had an exclusive songwriting deal with Rodriguez that was willfully ignored by Avant, whose Los Angeles-based Venture Records released the musician’s “Cold Fact” album in 1970. Gomba holds songwriting copyrights for those Rodriguez songs, the complaint said.
The lawsuit contends that Avant instead devised a “fraudulent scheme” to credit the album’s compositions to others — including the musician’s brother — rather than to Rodriguez himself.
The result, said the complaint, is that Gomba — and by extension Rodriguez — failed to benefit from the album’s eventual success in apartheid-era South Africa, where it may have sold 500,000 copies.
The suit seeks unspecified statutory and punitive damages.
The court filing comes one year after the Free Press reported that a legal team had started a royalties inquiry on the singer’s behalf.
“While settlement discussions were begun, they dragged on unreasonably,” the complaint reads.
Reached in Los Angeles, Avant said he was en route to speak with his attorneys. He said he had not read the complaint and was surprised to hear that it cites previous settlement discussions.
“Let the lawyers work it out now,” he said. “If (the lawsuit) says they were in conversations … I will certainly want to settle it, get it over with. I don’t want to be bothered with all this (BS). I really don’t. I’ll tell them today let’s talk to their lawyer and get it over with.”
Asked about the songwriting credits on “Cold Fact” — including the name “Jesus Rodriguez” — Avant said, “I only did what they sent me, and we put it out that way.”
Avant continued: “He named himself that, I guess. I really don’t know. Why would I name somebody? (Rodriguez) was the one signed to Harry Balk, trying to get out of the deal. You wait 40-something years to bring it up? Kind of strange.”
The lawsuit is a dramatic twist in the ongoing saga of Rodriguez, who came to wide attention via the 2012 documentary “Searching for Sugar Man.” The film chronicled the blue-collar singer’s belated discovery of his South African fame and offered a cynical portrayal of Avant while raising questions about unpaid royalties.
Questioned in the film about any money due to Rodriguez, Avant appeared dismissive, telling an interviewer: “You think somebody’s going to worry about a 1970 contract?”
The lawsuit contends that Avant continues to infringe copyright by licensing “Cold Fact” for sale. Propelled by the success of “Sugar Man,” the album has sold more than 198,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Avant said tonight that he is frustrated at being cast as a villain to Rodriguez, whom he describes as a talented musician who “should have been huge.”
“I think I’ve really been painted as the bad guy,” he said. “It really bugs me. I think I’ve been the good guy. … It really bugs me that I have to go through this, when I’m the one guy who believed in him.”
Gomba’s Balk, who worked with Motown Records in the 1960s and managed an array of Detroit acts, “did not become aware of the fraud perpetrated on him and his company” until the film’s release, the lawsuit says.
Rodriguez is scheduled to play May 13 at the Masonic Temple Theatre, one year to the week after his sold-out homecoming show at the Midtown venue.
Contact Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 email@example.com
When the crowd in the arena rose, whistling, cheering and applauding at the appearance of this legend of our youths, it seemed like an historic moment in the making. Barely able to see, Sixto Rodriguez was lead onto the stage by his daughter and an assistant, put on a top hat and began to sing in a remarkably young, robust voice.
It’s not often that an artist plays a sold-out, 5,000 capacity venue at the age of 70. It’s even less common that an artist does this feat having only released two studio albums that, initially, sold poorly.
But, that is what Rodriguez did at Hammersmith Apollo on Friday.
Rodriguez (birth name Sixto Rodriguez) is a Detroit-born singer-songwriter who was thought to be the next Bob Dylan (a frequent comparison), but his albums sold very little on their initial release in the early 70’s.
An elderly man in a black fedora and heavy sunglasses shuffles hesitantly along a Detroit sidewalk. The wrong side of 70, his eyesight poor, the man’s sloped shoulders suggest decades of hard labor.
His name is Sixto Rodriguez, and he has indeed spent most of his life struggling to provide for his family by taking poorly paid jobs on local building sites. But he’s also a rock star — at times “bigger than Elvis” in Australia, New Zealand and especially South Africa, where he’s sold hundreds of thousands of records — and has been since the 1970s.
Makes no sense? Welcome to the modern Cinderella story of Rodriguez, an extraordinary saga whose singer-songwriter protagonist was denied a lifetime of fame and adulation through a combination of inadequate communication, some likely financial cynicism, and plenty of unfortunate geography. Meet the poet who moved a generation of young people more than 40 years ago but enjoyed their acclaim only when they and he had passed middle age.
The Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man tells the almost unbelievable story of a Mexican-American songwriter whose two early Seventies albums bombed in America, but who wound up finding a huge audience in Apartheid-era South Africa. Sixto Rodriguez had no idea he was a legend there until a group of fans found him on the Internet and brought him to the country for a series of triumphant concerts. But while Searching for Sugar Man (soundtrack and DVD now available) is a fantastic film, it only grazes the surface of Rodriguez’s life story. Here are 10 things you may not know about Rodriguez:
Not only did he skip the Oscar ceremony – he was asleep when he won.
Searching for Sugar Man director Malik Bendjelloul begged Rodriguez to attend the Oscars, but he refused, feeling it would take the attention away from the filmmakers. “We also just came back from South Africa and I was tired,” Rodriguez says. “I was asleep when it won, but my daughter Sandra called to tell me. I don’t have TV service anyway.”
All you really have to know about this surprising and emotive music doc is that you should see it. Anyone who enjoyed, say, The Buena Vista Social Club or Anvil: The Story of Anvil, will surely go for this too. It tells the unlikely story of Sixto Rodriguez, a gifted but way-under-the-radar Detroit-based Hispanic singer-songwriter – and, like those other films, it enshrines a deeply moving idea that, in our cynical, superficial world, an authentic spirit will somehow, somewhere find its way to listeners’ hearts.
It’s also the remarkably round-the-houses route of Rodriguez’s odyssey which makes Searching for Sugar Man so intriguing. But, to be honest, the less you know about it, the richer your experience will be.
Part of the strangeness of the Rodriguez story is that he was never a star in the first place. Director Malik Bendjelloul treats us to generous slices of his early ’70s albums Cold Fact and Coming from Reality (recorded in the old Lansdowne studios in Holland Park, fact fans). The quality of the material is so striking – phantasmagorical lyrics shape a folk-pop hybrid comparable to Cat Stevens and Nick Drake – that it’s hard to believe the records disappeared without trace after their initial US release. It gets even odder from there, since the filmmaker actually came across the Rodriguez phenomenon in South Africa, where his music had spread like wildfire among a white middle class resistant to the apartheid regime. By the mid-’90s – as the film recounts via interviews, archive footage and even a splash of animation – Rodriguez had sold more records in South Africa than Elvis. But fans were starved of information about their idol. The rumour was that he’d shot himself on stage – a genuine rock ’n’ roll suicide!
DETROIT (WXYZ) – The star of the Oscar winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man will be performing his first post-Oscar show here in his hometown.
Sixto Rodriguez has scheduled a show at the Masonic Temple Theater for Saturday, May 18 at 8:00 pm. The show is being presented by the Crofoot Ballroom.
Ticket prices for the show have been set at two levels. They will cost you either $35 for the Balcony or $45 for the main floor. Tickets go on sale March 1 at Ticketmaster.com or thecrofoot.com.
Rodriguez is a local musician whose music made him bigger than Elvis in South Africa, all the while he remained little known her in his hometown.
1. Searching For Sugar Man
Two South Africans go on a quest to find cult US musician Sixto Rodriguez, whose lyrics of struggle and injustice had a huge impact in their apartheid-stained country in the ’70s. Cue a gloriously happy ending. The film is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 27 December. Best bit: The feverish reception for Rodriguez when he visits South Africa.