Apparently, one can be famous and not even know it. Such was the case for unknown folk singer Sixto Rodriguez in the ’60s. Discovered by two producers who heard him play in a dive bar in Detroit, Rodriguez was signed to Sussex and A&R records where he released two albums, “Cold Fact” and “Coming to Reality.”
Unfortunately, neither album sold well in the United States and Rodriguez disappeared. But as fate would have it, “Cold Fact” made its way to South Africa. No one really knows how it landed in Cape Town, but what is certain is that music from the political album helped motivate a movement.
During the apartheid, anti-establishment literature and protests were banned and those who dared to speak against the South African government were jailed. However, music from “Cold Fact” spoke to many whites who were strongly against racial segregation. A protest song, “The Establishment Blues,” further motivated activists and Afrikaan musicians who were already performing anti-apartheid songs at underground concerts.
Rivaling Bob Dylan in popularity, Rodriguez was so famous in South Africa that he was bigger than Elvis and it is believed his albums sold at least half a million copies. Yet, little was known about the artist himself. No one knew where Rodriguez lived or even if he was alive. At the time, his absence was attributed to rumors stating Rodriguez had committed suicide onstage.
In the ’90s, however, record store owner Steve Segerman and journalist Craig Bartholomew set out to find the truth and what they managed to uncover was shocking. First-time director Malik Bendjelloul, who discovered this moving tale in 2006 when he visited Cape Town, chronicles their journey perfectly. And to educate those who may be unfamiliar with Rodriguez, his powerful and thought-provoking music resonates throughout the haunting documentary.
I could say more about “Searching for Sugarman,” but to do so would ruin the mystery and soften the impact the film is meant to have on the viewer. But what I will share is that when “Searching for Sugarman” screened at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, many of the audience members were moved to tears. Some even applauded as the credits rolled.
As for me, I found the experience invigorating. In my opinion, “Searching for Sugarman” is the most inspirational film of the year.
In a previous entry about the film, I mentioned it won two awards at Sundance. Well, this past Sunday, “Searching For Sugarman” won the Audience Award for Best International Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Hopefully, the winning streak will continue and Rodriguez’s music will finally land the attention it deserves.
Watch “Searching for Sugarman” in theaters July 27 and pick up the soundtrack July 24.
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