“He has this kind of magical quality that all the genuine poets and artists have: to elevate things. To get above the mundane, the prosaic. All the bullshit. All the mediocrity that’s everywhere. The artist. This artist is the pioneer.”
– Rick Emmerson, Rodriguez’s coworker at the construction site.
This article is about Sixto Rodriguez, known by someas Sugar Man and professionally referred as Rodriguez. He used to live in the poorest areas of Detroit, oscillating his life between a philosophy degree, construction, and music. A minoritarian from the 1960’s America’s working-class. He released two albums “Cold Fact” and “Coming from Reality” in 1970 and 1971 respectively. By the time he was writing his third and never released an album, his label, Sussex Records hired him, with no other possibility of it to be produced due to his poor economic conditions. Although his music was not achieving any success in America by then, in countries such as Australia, and specially South Africa, he was being compared to genius such as Dylan or Stevens.
Not only due to his great talent as well as that he was taking a step towards revolution, his anti-apartheid thoughts expressed in his songs,served as hope and inspiration to defend South African’s own rights and to protest against their government. Australia contacted his label and reached Rodriguez. Excited after giving his first tour there and believing that was going to be the start of his career, he did not receive one call again after his tour. After releasing his first unsuccessful albums with just one tour given, Rodriguez went back to the construction site at his home place, Detroit. Meanwhile thousands of miles away, his songs (of which it was unknown how did they come from America) became hits among supporters of the anti-apartheid, creating feelings of fury and mystery around the young crowd. No one knew who the great Rodriguez was. A name that was heard everywhere during the late 70s in South Africa, a revolutionary name, who talked about sex, drugs, and life on the street. A name who was believed he had committed suicide. A name who made a change and served as the main character for the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man. A decade later, two fellows decided to look for him. No addresses found. No emails answered. No answers by phone. Yet, through years and years of search, they found the producer of his first album, grabbed a flight to America and the first answer they got due to Rodriguez’s mysterious cause of death was: “ That man is not dead!! He lives just around the street.” Rodriguez was 63 by then and had no idea about his success in South Africa, he was a happy old man, with a frustrated dream of playing his music, earning a living as he could with no phone, car or television while millions were made through his work down there in Cape Town.
Nowadays, he is making compilations of his main albums, performing through Europe, America and Africa. Never taking his black hat off, Rodriguez is a complete genius on stage. A man with amazing lyricism capacity only properly understood through his scratch guitar voice, songs from the cumbia-psych rock and folk genre.
The man is known as Sugar Man. That man is Rodriguez.