Mar 4, 2013
The film Searching for Sugar Man won the Academy Award for Best Documentary.
The movie tells the story of a Detroit musician, Sixto Rodriguez. Rodriguez, the single name he goes by when performing, made a couple of records in the early 1970s that went nowhere on the American pop charts. Unbeknownst to Rodriguez, though, one of his albums, Cold Fact, was a huge hit elsewhere in the world, most notably in South Africa, where the rebellious lyrics of some of the songs on Cold Fact struck a chord among young white Afrikaners opposed to the oppression of black South Africans.
As a testament to the power of his music, attempts by the apartheid government to block it only served to raise the musician’s stature to mythical proportions. Rodriguez became as popular in South Africa as Elvis Presley was here.
The film explains how radio disc jockeys and music librarians discovered that the vinyl on their copies of the song “Sugar Man,” a song about a drug dealer in Detroit, had been secretly scratched, apparently by government agents, to prevent its being played.
Rodriguez was the victim, like so many blues and jazz musicians were before him, of the capitalist music industry. Royalties generated by the huge sales of his record disappeared in the finances of the record company of a former Motown executive.
Rodriguez went on to live as a construction worker, earning a living tearing down homes, raising a family in Detroit, and occasionally playing his music in bars around town.
Through the words of his daughters, Rodriguez is a worker who is proud of his class, who brought the rich culture and history of working class Detroit to them – with frequent trips to the libraries, museums, and the famous Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Museum of Art.
The film tells the story of how a couple of his fans abroad worked to solve the mystery of Rodriguez’s whereabouts from a reference to Dearborn, Michigan in his song, Inner City Blues. The film has given Rodriguez some long deserved recognition. Searching for Sugar Man still plays in some movie houses and is now available on DVD.