Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Searching For Sugar Man

Yesterday evening I saw the movie Searching For Sugar Man, which was directed by the Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul. I had been intrigued by the hard-to-believe story of a down-and-out musician from Detroit, barely known in America, who nevertheless managed to be immensely popular in the Apartheid-era South Africa of the early 1970s. In fact Sixto Rodriguez managed to sell 1/2 million albums in the White-South African market of about 5 1/2 million people.

As the movie unfolds, we are told of Rodriguez' drug-use; his peripatetic existence; and his bizarre on-stage habit of singing with his back to the crowd. Having heard his songs, I must admit that his melodic voice does make him sound a bit like John Denver( strung out on drugs). And there is a deep melancholy about his lyrics. Two questions immediately came to mind: why didn't he make a move to California, where his folk-sound would have found a ready audience? And why didn't Americans catch on to his unique sound? Had he been under-marketed by the record companies? Or maybe, as a Mexican-American, was he "too ethnic" for the mainstream market? These questions linger.

Apparently, Rodriguez was totally unaware of his South African success and did not see a penny from royalties sent to his American record-label, Sussex Records. He therefore had to continue to work as a manual-laborer to pay the bills. But the story of Rodriguez doesn't end there. After being tracked down by his South African fans, he finally made a tour of South Africa in '98 and sold out six concerts. The concert-scenes in the movie are the movie's most poignant moments. Very moving! Very touching!

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