If you're into music documentaries, or just excellent documentaries in general, chances are you've already had the pleasure of hearing the inspired
music of Sixto Rodriguez and are aware of the incredible tale of an artist whose work flourished and inspired millions of people across the globe,
completely unbeknownst to him.
Searching for Sugar Man, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, details the remarkable story of the hunt to find a man whose music
inspired a revolution in South Africa, who had completely faded out of consciousness in his native country and was rumored to be dead.
Sixto Rodriguez was born to Mexican immigrants in Detroit in 1942. His parents were among a wave of migrants looking for industrial work, and the
poor living and working conditions and grueling labor he witnessed undoubtedly influenced the subject matter of his music. He went on to earn a
Bachelor of Philosophy which further shaped his lyrics.
His music career began in the late 60s, when he recorded the single "I'll Slip Away," the album "Cold Fact," and another partial album, but his music
never took off and the label which recorded him shut down. His career wasn't helped by what was considered odd behavior-- such as playing an entire
show with his back to the audience-- and was done before it began in his motherland.
A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez's album was making waves across the globe in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Botswana, and Zimbabwe-- even going platinum
in South Africa and becoming an unofficial anthem to the revolutionaries fighting apartheid.
The legend behind the music remained a mystery for many years. Most assumed him dead. As Searching for Sugar Man discovered, Rodriguez was
alive and well in his native hometown, working in demolition, staying active in local politics (even running for local office on a couple of
occasions), and surviving on humble means. He was oblivious to the fact that his name was celebrated by many in South Africa and his was known as the
voice of a hero.
Rodriguez tours today but has remained grounded and humble. He is living in the same apartment he lived pre-fame, the same apartment he bought in a
government auction for $50.
He shows no signs of resentment about his albums sold which made other people rich. He seems by all accounts to be a content, good man.
You a reply to: zosimov
I was born in South Africa in 63, into a family with 3 teen kids. From 1970,Jesus Rodrigues, as he was then named on the LP, was played non stop
amongst the white upper middle class. The blacks, amongst which we quite openly mixed,as did most of the English and Jews ( the Black Sash movement).
Cold Fact was incredibly popular across time ( My daughter bought her own copy in 2006 at the age of 12) just before we emmigrated ). I spent a fair
number of years in the music industry, and can honestly state that there was no large crossover of “ white man” music into the black community.
Miriam Makeba, Jaluka, Marley, Tosh and the like crossed over to the whites but the opposite would not have been accepted and black punishment of
blacks was horrific. Necklacing was probably the best known thereof. 32 battalion was universally feared throughout Southern African blacks and
although commanded by whites, the troops were black. Playing Cold fact in Soweto would be tantamount to an extremely slow and painful suicide!
Apartheid was mostly against blacks, mostly pro Dutch Reformed Church Afrikaners and far more complex than most people realize. Jesus, or “Sixto”
( G-d alone knows where that came from, never in the lyrics or LP cover which most of us knew intimately) led no racial revolution in any country,
It was the soundtrack to the frustrated hippy generations, with access to nothing but cannabis, terrified of the law and authority, rebelling in the
only way they knew how!
The lp was banned for a time for the lyrics of the track “I wonder” ( I wonder how many times you’ve had sex! ) How times have changed!
It was an accepted fact that Jesus was dead, which could explain why the follow on lp “ After the Fact” was, and sill is virtually unknown.
Almost 50 years after recording the record, Jesus is finally getting his much deserved recognition worldwide! He could have been another Dylan, Cohen
or Waits. How many musicians out there ended up in Jesus’s shoes or worse? When 90%+ of hit music is being written by just two men, perhaps we have
thrown out the baby, the bathwater and the bath!
He was this big mystery, and a lot of people thought he died and overdosed in the 1970's.
Such was life before the Internet.
While it is true that in SA with my generation his music was especially popular with white army conscripts (as a form of resistance music, similar to
The Doors or Pink Floyd), I'm not quite sure his music is actually disliked by other groups.
It's not dance or club music, but I've seen multiracial pubs and radio stations enjoy his music too.
Thanks for another interesting, informative post! I wish I could edit my OP to more closely reflect Rodriguez's impact regarding SA and apartheid
(not the anthem for the revolutionaries as I put it, though it sounds to me as if it sure reached a segment) ... but really appreciate your and
Now that I'm doing a bit more research I see that the Wikipedia article I sourced took some liberties (Shouldn't be surprised) by saying
Some of his songs served as anti-Apartheid anthems in South Africa, where his work influenced musicians protesting against the government.
Reportedly, anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko was a Rodriguez fan.
I went to the Wiki source (an interview with one of the filmmakers) and read this info regarding Biko:
Independent: Was it only white South Africans that were fans of Rodriguez? When you watch the concert footage, it seems like all or mainly white
faces in the audience.
MB: There was. It was definitely a predominantly white audience. There was also this screening in Durban where it came up and someone in the
audience said: "I was in the ANC and I was a friend of Steve Biko and Steve Biko was a big Rodriquez fan." But you’re right, it was very much
still an apartheid society. It was very separate cultures and Rodriquez was mainly famous among whites
not quite a rumor if only one person says
Very interesting story in any case!
Also, his music is great.
Have a good one, thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
a reply to: halfoldman
A particularly interesting post of yours! Jesus was very political in some of his songs, yet I never picked up anything in” Like Janis “. I felt
that was likely his most unambiguous track ever. I would love to hear where you pick up anything vaguely political!
Did you serve in the SADF? If so, which branch/ unit. I served in 19 squadron, the Puma choppers in early to mid 80’s.
Did you not also find the majority of servicemen Afrikaner and more into Koos Kombuis, Rika Steenkamp and their ilk than Floyd, Gabriel and
Rodriguez? We were vastly outnumbered by “ egte Afrikaners”.
Perhaps you served later than I did, and things had changed radically, I would honestly love to hear more. Please don’t think I am trying to
critique your post, quite the contrarary. It fascinates me that two people can have such vastly different takes on the same situation!
Lastly, I believe that killing or dying for a cause can be a positive trait, obviously depending on the cause. It is a hard lesson to learn and has
saved me and my family several times.That is a debt, probably the only one, I owe the SADF!
Looking forward to reading your response!
Upington (8-infantry). Supposedly to become an engineer. Handed me a shovel.
But the Angolan War then was over, many okes didn't go, or never went back.
Just as well, because the SADF budget was suddenly cut in half (more).
I kinda walked out, but got a study exemption after a year and a bit.
Second last intake that obeyed, apparently.
Yeah was a supporter of the End Conscription Campaign (ECC).
They made a lot of music in SA at the time.
Or rather, had a lot of musical support.
edit on 26-8-2018 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)
Thanks for this thread. I came across the video 3.5 years ago while checking for concert videos at the library. (was filling ideal time between
jobs). I really enjoyed the story and was able to find one of his cd's also at the library. I enjoy the lyrics and the social commentary I felt he was
describing from his surroundings.
I recently bought "COMING FROM REALITY" remastered lp and the "SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN" soundtrack dbl lp . Great quality and a treasured addition to
my collection. I agree with the comparisons to the writers of his day.
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