Mystery and anonymity in contemporary alternative music is something of a fad, an ill-advised marketing move. But forty years ago, American singer-songwriter Rodriguez embodied a more organic mystique. Despite acclaim from some corners, his two albums failed in his home country, only finding belated success abroad, following a disappearance into obscurity.'Searching For Sugar Man' uncovers the height of his fame and the man behind the music.
Talked about in the same breath as the likes of Bob Dylan, much was expected of Detroit's Rodriguez but success eluded him. At least in America. He unknowingly found fame in South Africa, with his anti-establishment leanings, becoming "bigger than Elvis". However his subsequent disappearance and air of anonymity led to rumours of a gruesome suicde. Were these rumours true?
'Searching For Sugar Man' unveils the fascinating story of Sixto Rodriguez whose debut album 'Cold Fact' in 1970 proved a massive hit in South Africa in the proceeding years, and provided significant political influence during the period of Apartheid. Rodriguez released just one follow-up record, 1971's 'Coming To Reality', which also found a welcoming home in South Africa.
The documentary rather ignores his success elsewhere, notably in Australia, but the more singular narrative is arguably more intriguing as a result. Similarly, we are tantalised with pictures of Rodriguez in London, yet hear little of his experiences in the UK. Considering 'Searching For Sugar Man' is a British made production, the documentary disappointingly fails to touch on his reception on our side of the pond.
Nowadays, with the internet at our fingertips, it is all too easy to discover the fate of the Sugar Man. Nonetheless, he remains very much an enigma. The temptation to search for information is great but not knowing the ins-and-outs of the tale of Rodriguez undoubtedly leads to a more satisfactory viewing experience. Show restraint and a suitable reward awaits.
You wait a lifetime for a brilliant documentary about music in South Africa, and two pop up in the space of months. Both 'Under African Skies' and 'Searching For Sugar Man' are as powerful as they are inspirational. With 'Mission To Lars' also coming out in 2012, what a stellar year for music documentaries we've had already.
'Searching For Sugar Man' is out in UK cinemas through Optimum Releasing. Rodriguez albums are available to purchase from amazon.co.uk.