Searching for Sugar Man
Singer songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, circa 1970
Photo: Courtesy Protagonist Pictures
Link to Sundance Film Festival 2012 Synopsis
What is it...that perfect combination of talent, charisma and circumstance that propels one person to success and fame?
That is the subject of many a documentary, but in Searching for Sugar Man, it is a mystery for the unraveling. Rodriguez had all of the makings of a folk rock balladeer of the late 60's: songwriting, voice, looks, message and cool. Indeed, his promoters thought they had found their next cash cow, but despite promotion, concert tours and two albums, Rodriquez did not ignite the American music scene, but rather he disappeared into complete obscurity everywhere---except South Africa where he became a megastar without ever having set foot on the continent.
It was a bootleg copy of Rodriquez's first album Cold Fact* from an American visitor, including the song "Sugar Man", that started an underground music revolution that helped influence South African resistance to apartheid. His simple melodies and explosive lyrics with raw messages of urban Detroit articulated the restlessness of a generation of youth rebelling against the societal and governmental oppression of South Africa. As Rodriquez's underground popularity grew, South African distributors and deejays obtained copies for distribution and air play from U.S. distributor Sussex Records. But as his music propelled him to mega stardom, Rodriquez the man remained an enigma.
The music of Rodriguez in itself is mesmerizing, but the mystery of his origin and disappearance from the music scene are the most compelling aspect of this film. Documenting the search for the artist referred to as "Sugar Man", the mystery is unraveled and the viewer is rewarded with a peak into the soul of a unique talent and an intriguing human being.
I rate this completely captivating story four cappuccinos. Winner of the World Cinema Award for Documentary Film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Searching for Sugar Man is not only a riveting story, but a study in the importance of time, place and circumstance in the making of a music icon.
*Cold Fact is currently in re-release by Light in the Attic Records.