Searching for Sugarman

By Alan Landau on June 26, 2017


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How's it possible that a musician in the USA can be living a humble and financially difficult existence, and yet outside the USA be selling more copies of his music than Elvis or Dylan?

And how's could it be possible he didn't even know?

This is the amazing, almost fairytale-true story, of a person whose life was music.

A friend of mine in South Africa contacted me by text one day and urged me to see Searching For Sugarman, a documentary movie. I had no idea what she was talking about, but she was so excited that I decided I had to see the movie.

I spent the first 40 years of my life in Zimbabwe, (a small country just north of South Africa), but now live in Australia. I tried, without any success, to find the DVD Searching For Sugarman. I couldn't buy it on Amazon, eBay or iTunes, but there were references to the movie in Google. Apparently "Sugarman” was a musician called Sixto Rodriguez. I had not heard of him (or so I thought at the time), and so didn't think of purchasing his album which, oddly enough, was readily for sale.

Then I heard the movie was playing at a boutique cinema in Brisbane - on the far side of the city. So I thought I'd wait for it to show at a more convenient location (in hindsight, it would have been worth the journey!)

Recently I travelled to South Africa on a family visit, and on my last day, as I was about to head to the airport, I found the DVD Searching For Sugarman for sale at a local book store. So I bought a copy and brought it back to Australia with me, and at the first opportunity I popped it in the DVD player and settled down to see what the hype was all about.

For me it was the most amazing film I've seen in decades. The story of Sixto Rodriguez is nothing short of extraordinary - a man who created amazing music in the late 1960s and 70s, was almost totally unknown and unappreciated in his own country, yet was a sensation in southern Africa and Australia. And, amazingly, he wasn't even aware of his success!

And the story hit me at a personal level too. At the time Rodriguez's music was creating a storm in southern Africa I was in my late teens. And as soon as I heard the first song on the DVD (entitled Sugarman), memories from my teen years came flooding back to me - memories of secretly listening to bootleg cassette tape recordings in the garden shed, or on an Eveready battery operated portable cassette player at school.

And then there was the track “I Wonder”…

Censorship banned music that made reference to sex - so naturally this track had great significance to many a teenager, who idolized the man brave enough to put those lyrics to his music. A man they knew nothing about.

Although today's generation would be unlikely to appreciate the significance of what Rodriguez did for teenagers of his day - simply because they would not understand the historical social and political context - I believe his anti-establishment lyrics will strike a chord in younger hearts for centuries to come.

Overall Searching For Sugarman is an excellent production and I wish I'd bought more copies of the DVD to give to my friends - all of whom, like me, would have forgotten Sixto Rodriguez, but who would fall in love with his music all over again when memories and nostalgia of the first track on the DVD come flooding home.