Music as a Muse: “Searching for Sugar Man”

 Image American cinema poster

Art forms have always found their ways to collaborate, mix and melt into a different piece of work, a new, creative form of expression. Specifically, music has been the muse of other art forms, resulting in the birth of paintings, films and poems.

What is interesting about the story I’m about to share with you is the fact that it was the work inspired by the music, and not the music itself, what brought worldwide attention to the artist, to his surprise.

THE MUSIC: Sixto Rodriguez

Rodriguez, Mexican American folk musician, was born in Detroit in 1942. He was discovered by Motown producer Dennis Coffey while playing in local decadent and grey bars in his hometown. With his back turned to the audience so that they would pay attention to his message, he sang political and antiestablishment messages, expressing controversial social issues with his inner-city poetry style. Rodriguez signed to Sussex Records and released two albums: Cold Fact (1970) and Coming from Reality (1971).

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Rodriguez’s first album “Cold Fact”

However, while he enjoyed some success in Australia, the records sold so few copies that he was dropped from the label while still completing his third record.  Loosing hopes of making it in the Music Industry, Rodriguez walked away and adopted a humble and quiet lifestyle in the construction sector.

“I really thought Cold Fact was going to make it. There was a lot of work done, and I thought there was a big chance for it, but it didn’t happen. I went into the second album, but again a lot of other things happened and the place went bankrupt. Nothing beats reality. But the revolution never stops. ” Rodriguez [Social Stereotype]

THE DOCUMENTARY: “Searching for Sugar Man”

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 Steve “Sugar” Segerman in the documentary

Directed by: Malik Bendjelloul
Produced by: Malik Bendjelloul , Simon Chinn
Release date: 19 January 2012
Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
Length: 86 minutes
Country: Sweden, United Kingdom
Language: English
Music by: Sixto Rodriguez

While nobody was interested in listening to him in America, the citizens of a politically repressed South Africa found meaning in Rodriguez’s message, were he became extremely popular and the voice of the oppressed youth. In South African record store owner’ Steve Segerman’s words:

 In the 1970s, if you walked into a random white, liberal, middle class household that had a turntable and a pile of pop records…you would always see ‘Abbey Road’ by the Beatles, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ by Simon and Garfunkel and ‘Cold Fact’ by Rodriguez. To us it was one of the most famous records of all time. The message it had was ‘be anti-establishment.’ One song is called ‘The Anti-Establishment Blues.’ We didn’t know what the word was until it cropped up on a Rodriguez song, and then we found it’s OK to protest against your society, to be angry with your society. [Voice of America]

After hearing rumors about Rodriguez committing suicide by burning himself during a performance, Segerman started an investigation with his friend and journalist Craig Bartholomew Strydom to find out what had really happened to his hero.

Malik’s documentary narrates Segerman’s and Craig’s journey in search of the artist’s true story, navigating the little information available. They finally encounter Rodriguez, alive and completely unaware of his success and musical influence in South Africa, who finally finds an audience to direct his songs to.  In 1998, without having ever seen any royalties from his records, he travelled to South Africa to perform in arenas in front of thousands of people that had been waiting for him for years.

Searching for Sugar Man Official Trailer

IMPACT: “Award winning Documentary”

The film has received very positive critical reception and has been repeatedly recognized in the film industry, winning in the category of “ Best Documentary” in events such as the Academy Awards, the British Academy Film Awards, the DGA awards, the Sundance Film Festival, WGA awards and the PGA awards.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Rodriguez talks about his musical career, his thoughts about his new fame and his experience during the recording of the documentary.

Finding ‘Sugar Man’: Rodriguez Reflects on a Crazy Year with a Hollywood Ending

The tremendous success of the documentary worked as an unplanned massive marketing campaign for Rodriguez, giving him the opportunity to relaunch his music career, and be recognized as an artist and reach a worldwide audience. “Searching for Sugar Man” has captured fan and media attention, which has triggered an extensive tour around Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, US and Europe as well as performances in many festivals such as Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Glastonbury festival or Montreux Jazz festival.

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Rodriguez performing at Montreux Jazz festival

Currently, the 70-year-old Rodriguez is discussing with producer Steve Rowland the idea of recording a new album.

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