By now you’ve no doubt seen or at least heard about the documentary Searching for Sugarman. It recently walked away from the Oscars with the award for best documentary which it very definitely deserved.
Searching for Sugar Man is the story of two South African music fans who are trying to find out what happened to the not-so-famous US musician Rodriguez, who was incredibly popular in South Africa and Australia during the 70′s. Rodriguez was born in Detroit and released his first album Cold Fact in the US in March 1970. It was incredibly well received by critics, the record label was looking forward to great sales from the “next Bob Dylan”, but then the strangest thing happened. Virtually no one in the US bought it. Rodriguez quietly faded from the music business shortly after releasing his second album Coming from Reality. Unknown to Rodriguez, his music found a home in the hearts of South Africans and Australians, and his records were selling out across the country. His rebellious themes spoke volumes to the oppressed audiences in South Africa in particular. Many years later, after hearing rumours of his demise, two music fans, Stephen Segerman and Craig Bertholomew, made a startling discovery about the truth behind Rodriguez’s death.
While this documentary will definitely have more appeal to fans of Rodriguez, it should be watched by anyone who considers themselves an artist.
The Bottom Line
When I first went to watch this movie, I had read online that it had been receiving positive reviews but I had little idea what it was about. I didn’t even recognise the name Rodriguez, and it wasn’t until the opening tune that I realised that I had heard his music before. As someone who certainly likes music, but wouldn’t describe himself as a music fan, I still connected deeply with the story of Rodriguez. He was a brilliant artist who was recognized as a genius by anyone who worked with him, but failed to make any kind of commercial impact in the US. And as I mentioned, even if you aren’t a fan, or have never heard his music before, it’s brilliantly woven into the documentary so that you’ll get to listen to it.
There’s also some sadness in the story, as we discover more about the truth behind Rodriguez’s life, and about money that should have rightfully made its way to him and his family. An obviously seedy record label producer asks at one point “Do you want to know what happened to him, or what happened to the money?” Clearly someone had a guilty conscience.
An incredibly moving documentary detailing the life of a brilliant musician who was almost overlooked by society. A movie that will no doubt bring hope to many aspiring artists, this documentary will appeal to anyone with a creative side. This movie should definitely be watched by South Africans, considering how Rodriguez’s music became key in expressing the feelings of many of the repressed and their sympathisers during Apartheid.
About the writer
Rowan Govender, a writer and artist who is more commonly known by his pen name Rowango, graduated from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal with an Honors degree in Media in 2006. He relocated to Cape Town in 2007 to pursue his interest in writing and film. He is currently employed part time in the Technical Writing industry, while he pursues personal creative projects.