If someone was to ask you do you know of a musician who is regarded bigger than Elvis better than Bob Dylan you would probably laugh in that person’s face and tell them there’s no one? In Mallick Bendjelloul’s Searching For Sugar Man he introduces to the world that person, his name is Sixto Rodriguez an unknown but gifted latino American singer-songwriter whose fame and success is the inspiration behind a nation’s rise against their oppressors to become a nation once again.
Searching For Sugar Man tells the story of (Sixto) Rodriguez a Mexican-American singer-songwriter who was discovered in the late 1960’s by two celebrated producers awestruck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. They went onto to record 2 albums which were to secure Rodriguez’s reputation as one of the finest recording artists of his generation, however, the albums bombed the singer disappeared into oblivion amid rumours of gruesome onstage suicide. Whilst Rodriguez sunk without trace in his homeland thousands of miles away on the other side of the world unknown to him his music becomes the voice of the resistance in Apartheid South Africa. Thanks to two of those South African Fans embark on an investigation on what really happened to their hero, an investigation lead them to some extraordinary results.
Searching For Sugar Man is a story that had to be told.In an era when many young musicians are wrapped in cotton wool to protect them, forced to give up individual style, creativity, originality for a quick route to the top. In return musical fascist Simon Cowell rips your soul away for a predictable generic sound, manufactured to find your 15 minutes of fame, would you ever see James Arthur, JLS or no direction have they stepped into a smokey old bar or an aggressive working man’s club? They probably look at you with such disdain. Say it to Rodriguez and many of the artists of the same generation these clubs are the heart and soul of music, you learned your trade their, experienced heartache most off be spotted there.
Searching for Sugar Man may not be telling us the whole story nor is it leaving you what your hearing is a fabrication. The director Malik Bendjelloul decides to deliver the mystery card most of Rodriguez life with solely concentrating on the impact his album Cold Fact had on South Africa. 2012 has been the year of the documentary which this film earning its cinematic stripes staying away from the typical musical doc constraints for something a little more in depth, impact delivering the mystery by following the investigation of South African journalist Craig Bartholomew and record shop owner Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman, as they try to piece to piece together one of music’s great ‘unsolved’ Rock N Roll Suicides. With the search beginning only 15 years ago in 1997 you would think things would be a little easier however this was pre-internet boom era the world wide web was in its infancy with access to the internet limited to a privileged few making this outcome even more fascinating.
My only gripe with Searching For the Sugar Man was the trail of the financial benefits that should have bestowed Rodriguez was cut rather too soon for my liking. However, as you watch on the trail we did take hit a brick wall when all paths seem to lead to former Motown Executive Clarence Avant who clearly becomes very aggressive when questioned leading to thoughts Rodriguez talent was exploited for other persons financial gains. So why doesn’t Rodriguez care? When we finally meet him we see why, he’s a modest man, a man of basic needs despite his appearance and sometimes a persona of an old rock star but deep down a man living a solitude life.Politically we hear that Rodriguez is a man of the people, working class street man it’s this that suggests where the ‘better than Dylan’ line may come into force but also as his views politically not of American way you might think this might have cost him. If he did reap those lost financial rewards he would have shared the wealth with his loved ones just like he did with the South African ones.
Searching For the Sugar Man may not totally answer those burning questions fully but still what we get is fulfilling compelling and captivating. In a age when new musicians surrender musical freedom and integrity to be pushed directly limeight for their 15 minutes of fame unprepared for the pitfall’s of the industry Searching For The Sugar Man is a stark reminder of a story that will never happen again in music so its a magical story that must be told for generations to come.
★★★★★| Paul Devine
This was originally posted at The Peoples Movies | 23rd December 2012