By now you’ve probably heard the story of Sixto Rodgriguez. He recorded two fine albums for Sussex Records in 1969 and 1970, but neither one made any impact on the charts. Rodgriguez backed away from the music scene and went to work doing construction in Detroit. During this time he was politically active and made an unsuccessful run for the Detroit city council. His name was misspelled on the ballot.
In the meantime, no one knows exactly how, Rodriguez’ music became immensely popular in South Africa. He was completely unaware of this however, and as far as the South Africans knew, he was dead. Finally, in the late ’90s two intrepid South Africans, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, decided to try to find out how he died, only to learn that Rodriguez was very much alive.
Rodriguez was invited to perform in South Africa and played sold-out venues before adoring fans. Some years later first-time filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul decided to tell the Rodriguez story and the result is the acclaimed documentary Searching For Sugar Man, which will be released on DVD on January 22. This week the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.