“Music can change the world because it can change people,”said well-know Irish singer-songwriter and musician, Bono. This is especially true in Africa, where music is an integral part of everyday life. South Africa with its melting pot of cultures has produced a rich crop of highly talented popular-music legends, whose music has changed people’s perceptions. In honour of some of these musicians, the South African Post Office will issue a set 10 self-adhesive stamps and two commemorative envelopes on 3 July, featuring artwork by Vumile Mavumengwana.
Other famous people have also sung the praises of the power of music, notably Shakespeare who wrote: “If music be the food of love, play on…”. But more applicable in the South African context, are the words of Hans Christian Andersen: “Where words fail, music speaks.” The music of South African musicians have indeed spoken to scores of people across the board – our cities, townships, rural areas, sports stadiums and marketplaces are infused and alive with music.
The popular-music legends featured on these stamps were chosen for their innovative music, which brought fundamental change to the perceptions of South Africans and was instrumental in uniting societies. Criteria used in choosing them also included factors such as whether they introduced a completely new, original and distinctively South African style of music.
The musicians are as representative as possible of our society, covering the most important or best-known musical genres, which achieved international success.
James Phillips: 1959-1995
Also known as Bernoldus Niemand. In the musical genre Counter Cultural, Phillips represents a leading influence on the Voëlvry alternative, Afrikaans rock renaissance movement and its impact on South African anti-apartheid protest music. Alongside Koos Kombuis, Valiant Swart, Willem Möller and Johannes Kerkorrel, he was a “cultural icon, voice and conscience to a generation of apartheid-era white South Africans.”
Brenda Fassie: 1964-2004
In the musical genre Afropop, Fassie was one of the most popular urban African musicians of the 1980s and 1990s. She has been described as the “Queen of African Pop” and her bold stage antics earned her a reputation for “outrageousness”. Affectionately called Mabrr by her fans, she was voted 17th on the list of Top 100 Great South Africans.
Johannes Kerkorrel: 1960-2002
Born Ralph Rabie, Kerkorrel was a prolific singer-songwriter in the musical genre Alternative Afrikaans/Voëlvry movement. Described as “one of the leading lights of the rebel Voëlvry movement that blew a new wind across the Afrikaans music scene in the early 1980s”, he exposed a new generation of Afrikaners to political views resisting apartheid. Several artists have recorded tribute songs to his life and work.
Lucky Dube: 1963-2007
As an icon of South African Reggae, Dube pioneered and popularised this genre, which conveyed the Rastafarian philosophy, among township youth. He still influences younger musicians pursuing this style. Dube recorded 22 albums in Zulu, English and Afrikaans in a 25-year period and was South Africa’s biggest-selling Reggae artist. He earned over 20 awards – locally and internationally.
Miriam Makeba: 1932-2008
Makeba, a legend in the musical genre World Music and Mbaqanga, is the most famous South African musician both locally and internationally. Nicknamed Mama Africa, Makeba is a Grammy Award-winner, a civil rights activist and a global icon for women. In the 1960s, she was the first artist from Africa to popularise African music worldwide. In 1987, she performed with Paul Simon in his famous Graceland tour.
Solomon Linda: 1909-1962
Linda, was a musician, singer, composer and innovator of note regarding developing the Isicathimiya musical genre and is credited with a number of musical innovations that came to dominate the Isicathamiya style. He wrote the song Mbube, which later became popular as The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and gave its name to the Mbube style of Isicathamiya a cappella popularised later by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Spokes Mashiyane: 1933-1972
Johannes Spokes Mashiyane was regarded as one of the greatest pennywhistle artists who graced the South African Kwêla music scene in the 1950s and 1960s, at a time when that genre was one of the defining styles and the dominant dance music in the country. He later switched to saxophone and was instrumental in Kwêla’s evolution into township jive. He has a strong following to this day.
Simon Nkabinde: 1935-1999
Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde is a legendary Mbaqanga singer, a genre of indigenous music that continues to influence musicians worldwide today. Known as the “Lion of Soweto”, Nkabinde is the acknowledged exponent of the deep-voiced, basso profundo style that came to symbolise Mbaqanga music from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. He collaborated on Paul Simon’s groundbreaking Graceland album and tour.
Kippie Moeketsi: 1925-1983
One of South Africa’s greatest Jazz musicians, Moeketsi first played the clarinet, but soon moved on to the saxophone. Influenced by his pianist brother Jacob Moeketsi, Kippie’s career started in shebeens with Band in Blue. He was the driving force in the Jazz Epistles alongside Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and Makhaya Ntshoko who recorded the first authentic South African Jazz album.
Taliep Petersen: 1950-2006
Taliep Petersen, was a legendary singer, composer and director, who popularised the so-called Cape Ghoema sound together with David Kramer. In a tribute after his death, he was credited with “rewriting the musical landscape of the Western Cape and enriching the culture of this country.” He has been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as a Naledi for Best Musical Director/Score/Arrangement for Ghoema.
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.
50 Flippen Brilliant South Africans is the eagerly anticipated follow-up to the bestselling 50 People Who Stuffed Up South Africa, and is once again an irreverent and entertaining popular history of modern South Africa – but with a more positive spin this time around.
What does it take to be a flippen brilliant South African? Simple: sheer brilliance and a good story. So, whether naughty or noble, crazy or controversial, here are 50 of the most talented, successful, inspirational, intriguing, fascinating Saffers to have walked the planet…
The Mexican-American singer-songwriter known simply as, “Rodriguez” had been working on his music career in Detroit since the early 1960s. He recorded an album in 1969 that many believed was going to secure his reputation as one of the greatest recording artists of his generation. Instead, Cold Fact bombed and the Rodriguez seemingly disappeared into obscurity, even being subject to rumours that he had committed suicide by setting himself on fire onstage and other imaginative tales. The album took on a life of its own when a bootleg recording found its way into our own South Africa. Banned by the Apartheid government, the album became a nationwide phenomenon over the next two decades, and the soundtrack to a resistance movement of liberal African youth. Back in Detroit, living a hardscrabble life, Rodriguez was totally unaware that he was not just a folk hero but a household name thousands of miles away.
Big Concerts have announced that Rodriguez will be touring South Africa in February 2013, with concerts in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
15 February 2013 – Carnival City, Big Top Arena
20 February 2013 – Grand West Arena Cape Town
Filmmakers document one Detroit construction worker/songwriter who never knew he was the ‘Bob Dylan’ of South Africa.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE AND SOUNDTRACK BRINGS RODRIGUEZ’S INCREDIBLE LIFE STORY AND 1970s MUSIC TO A NEW GENERATION
Soundtrack available everywhere starting August 13, 2012, through Columbia/Legacy
“The buzzworthy Sundance documentary” – Yahoo!
“An acclaimed new documentary goes hunting for the lost Dylan” – Grantland
“The tale is better than the telling – and the soundtrack’s better still – but music this monumental demands its moment. Now go and buy the album” – Matt Glasby Total Film UK
“I found the story in 2006. I was looking for stories, travelling around South Africa and America, and thinking the purpose was to sell them to Swedish TV, because I’d been working for Swedish TV before. I found this story and it was the best story I’d ever heard in my life and probably ever will; a great, great story.” Director, Malik Bendjelloul
We all know the lyrics, we may even have been a fan, but who knows what happened to the musician who brought us Sugar Man? SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is the most improbable but true story you will ever witness on the big screen. Rodriguez, a mysterious Detroit singer-songwriter, became a source of hope and inspiration to the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa and then he disappeared – until two South Africans set out to discover what happened to one of the biggest music sensations this country has ever known. The thought-provoking new documentary film, SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, will be screened exclusively at select Ster-Kinekor and Cinema Nouveau theatres on 31st August and is not to be missed!
Directed by Malik Bendjelloul, SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN tells a story that begins with the 1970 release of Rodriguez’s debut album, Cold Fact.
Discovered in the late 1960s, Rodriguez impressed producers with his Dylanesque songwriting. As a charismatic and mysterious artist he built a strong local following and became a true folk hero in the purest sense.
While Cold Fact was critically acclaimed, it did not succeed commercially, and despite the release of a second LP, Rodriguez drifted into obscurity. Rumors of his fate were widely and wildly exaggerated, ranging from reports of escalating depression to a sensationally gruesome suicide onstage, involving self-immolation.
Meanwhile, the LP had made its way around the world to South Africa, where it was banned by an oppressive government. Copies were bootlegged and circulated, and Rodriguez inadvertently became the soundtrack of an emerging liberal youth, including many liberal Afrikaans musicians for whom Rodriguez became an inspiration for their own music.
Over the next two decades, Rodriguez became a household name in the country, where the number of copies of Cold Fact would have earned it platinum sales status.
Both sides of the story, Rodriguez’s life in Detroit and the subsequent impact of his music in the smoldering Apartheid era proved fascinating to Stockholm-based documentary filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul.
His subjects have included Kraftwerk, Björk, Sting, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Madonna, Mariah Carey, U2, Kylie Minogue, Prince, and others. His short documentary films for Swedish Television’s international cultural weekly show Kobra, became the basis for such films as Men Who Stare At Goats (George Clooney) and The Terminal (Tom Hanks).
You can also download the Nokia and Samsung Android apps and book from your mobile.
The soundtrack album on Legacy will compile tracks from Cold Fact and its follow-up LP of 1971, Coming From Reality, reissued to critical acclaim in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, a Red Box Films & Passion Pictures Production in association with Canfield Pictures & The Documentary Company, distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, premiered in New York on April 24th at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The film opened in New York and Los Angeles on July 27th and will open in other markets throughout the month of August. For a complete release schedule, visit the film’s website at www.SearchingForSugarManMovie.com.
Searching for Sugar Man release cinemas:
1. Rosebank Nouveau
2. Gateway Nouveau
3. Cavendish Nouveau
4. V&A Nouveau
5. Brooklyn Nouveau
6. Garden Route Mall
7. Mimosa Mall
8. Somerset Mall
Searching for Sugar Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) – Tracklisting
1. SUGAR MAN
2. CRUCIFY YOUR MIND
4. I WONDER
5. LIKE JANIS
6. THIS IS NOT A SONG, IT’S AN OUTBURST: OR, THE ESTABLISHMENT BLUES
7. CAN’T GET AWAY
8. I THINK OF YOU
9. INNER CITY BLUES
10. SANDREVAN LULLABY – LIFESTYLES
11. STREET BOY
12. A MOST DISGUSTING SONG
13. I’LL SLIP AWAY
14. JANE S. PIDDY
Five minute interview in London with Rodriguez, South Africa’s musical hero.