Documentary in Focus: Searching for Sugar Man

by Marijke van der Lee

Rodriguez, now a global iconAs Searching for Sugar Man recounts, Rodriguez was, in the early 1970s, a singer whom several music industry executives felt was as talented as anyone they'd ever encountered; several likened his distinctive voice and poetic lyrics to those of Bob Dylan, which is no small compliment. He was signed to a record deal but, to their dismay, his first two albums, Coming from Reality and Cold Fact, completely flopped, selling only a handful of copies. Not long thereafter, he dropped out of the music biz and off of their radar altogether. Meanwhile, halfway across the world, bootleg copies of his albums made their way into South Africa and became the soundtrack of the anti-Apartheid movement. To South Africans, though, the man behind the voice was a complete mystery, and rumors began spreading that he had died the most sensational of deaths. The defiant and risque lyrics of Rodriguez's music -- particularly songs like "I Wonder" and "Sugar Man" -- resonated strongly with South Africans in the 1970s, as they were just beginning to push back against their oppressive government, which had already caused them to be cut off from the rest of the world. Rodriguez obviously did not have South African politics in mind when he wrote the tunes; in fact, he says, he wasn't any more familiar or connected with South Africa than most other Americans until long after he lost his record deal. "I knew about the boycott and I knew about the economic sanctions to South Africa, but that's about it. I knew about [slain anti-Apartheid activist Stephen] Biko and I knew about Soweto [the township where protests by high school students in 1976 ended with 176 people killed by the police]. But I didn't know the depth of the government repression."

 It was only through the relentless efforts of two of South Africa's most hardcore Rodriguez fans, Stephen "Sugar" Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom (who are prominently featured in the film), that South Africans learned the real story of what happened to Rodriguez -- and Rodriguez learned the real story of what happenend in South Africa.

You can borrow the dvd in our Library: AFRIKA AVM1410

Searching for Sugar Man, available at the ASC Library