Sunday, March 31, 2013
The documentary "Searching For Sugar Man," directed by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, recounts one of the most improbable tales in contemporary music. Rodriguez, a Detroit singer-songwriter, put out an album, "Cold Fact," in 1969 to good reviews. The song "Sugar Man" and the rest of the collection are in the social protest tradition, depicting the realities of inner city life and showcasing the artist's outstanding voice, musicianship and lyrics. Despite these attributes, the album didn't sell in the U.S. and Rodriguez supported himself as a laborer. Unbeknownst to him, however, his record became a tremendous hit in South Africa, even though he didn't reap the rewards.
Rodriguez's anti-establishment music appealed to young, white, liberal South Africans opposed to Apartheid. It took a South African Rodriguez fan, Stephen Segerman, nicknamed Sugar, to lead a worldwide search for the performer. Segerman's quest led him to Rodriguez, which eventually resulted in a triumphant tour in South Africa and the current revival of his career in the U.S. Through it all, Rodriguez remains a modest, soft-spoken man with an air of mystery, one who gives away most of his musical earnings to friends and family. How someone so talented was overlooked for so long is part of the vagaries of the music industry. "Searching for Sugar Man" leaves us celebrating the rediscovery of Rodriguez and the introduction of his musical creativity to a wider audience.