Can you imagine being famous without even knowing, being an icon on the other side of the world, having your album standing next to Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles and being even more famous than Elvis? And can you also imagine your fans believing you’re dead and only years later discovering the truth? Well, the Mexican-American musician Sixto Diaz Rodriguez probably also couldn’t have imagined all this but then a website changed his whole life. If you want to know why fans in South Africa adored him and how this country became his second home, you should read his story, watch the documentary and listen to his music:
Rodriguez was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1942 and is a passionate songwriter and musician dealing with political and social issues in his songs. After being discovered performing at a bar, he recorded two albums in the early 1970’s. But unfortunately the albums didn’t sell as nobody in the United States seemed interested his music. Due to this tremendous lack of interest and his failure to make an impact with his work, he gave up on his intended career and went back to doing manual labor jobs.
Meanwhile, an American girl visiting her boyfriend in South Africa brought the first Rodriguez cassette tape into the country. The album quickly spread by word of mouth, countless copies were made and his songs were played at most parties. Rodriguez became a well-known idol on the other side of the world. Living under the strict apartheid government, white South Africans were inspired by his lyrics and regarded his songs as an expression of rebellion. At this point the South African audience didn’t know much about him or his whereabouts but rumor spread that Rodriguez had committed suicide onstage at one of his concerts.
Whereas most fans just accepted the fact not knowing any more details about the life and death of their famous star Rodriguez, two passionate music lovers wanted to get to the bottom of things and find out what had really happened. They chased down record label owners, tracked down profits from his record sales, searched for hints in his lyrics and eventually set up a website called “The Great Rodriguez Hunt” in 1997. They hoped this website would reach a host of people world-wide who could help them to find out more about their icon.
As it happens, one year later the eldest daughter of Rodriguez came across this forum and confirmed that her father was happily alive and still living in Detroit. She made arrangements for a phone call with Rodriguez and his passionate fans where he was asked to perform in South Africa. In spite of their doubts and against expectations, the musician and his family came over for the concerts and were enthusiastically welcomed to this country. In 1998, Rodriguez performed and played to six sold out concerts in front of thousands of people. His tour has been an enormous success and let him return to South Africa many more times for live performances.
In the Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” by the Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul you can follow the musical development of Sixto Diaz Rodriguez and discover how two of his fans were able to track him down and revive the dream of many of his fans to see him live in concert by bringing him to South Africa. Rodriguez is an amazing musician and will certainly enchant you with his unique voice and deep lyrics.
Things to do in Cape Town after you have watched the documentary:
1. Visit Mabu Vinyl, the music store of one of Rodriguez’ passionate fans. It’s definitely a must-do for every music enthusiast. (Address: 2 Rheede Street, Gardens, Cape Town)
2. Cruise along Chapman’s Peak Drive while listening to “Sugar Man” by Rodriguez. This scenic drive is also featured in the documentary and certainly one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen so far.