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I Feel Lucky

By Jayne Waterford
Copyrighted © Jayne Waterford, 15th May 2013. Revised 2nd April 2014.
REVIEW: "SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN": a film about Rodriguez by Jayne Waterford

The first question asked is, "Who is this guy?"

This documentary is made by fanatics of a revolutionary musician who inspired the Africaan's revolution against Apartheid in South Africa, contributing to the rise of the ANC (Nelson Mandela's party). "SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN" incorporates stories that I have heard through my life and spans Cape Town, South Africa, Palm Springs, California, USA and Detroit, Michigan, USA. The soundtrack are original songs from the career of Rodriguez in complete concepts and some whole songs. As Rodriguez sings, we sometimes pan through Detroit, even before we get there in the story.

The film begins little obscurely and then very gravely. "It's been 40 years since the release of his first album," Stephen "Sugar" Segerman's narrative recorded in 2011. Rodriguez was much bigger than the Rolling Stones in South Africa. He is said to have died in what was, "probably the most grotesque suicide in rock history." ("Sugar")

And the stories begin. Stories I've heard.

We hear the testimony of buddies Rodriguez works

with in restoring houses in Detroit plus big-named producers and through these testimonies we piece together a biography of this man, his music, it's impact on world history and the impact of his legacy on his family and life, decades after the release of albums. The albums only flew in South Africa and didn't do anything anywhere else. His success was as bizarre as ABBA's in Australia and nowhere else.

Rodriguez career spanned the making of two albums:

'Cold Fact' (1970) co-produced by Dennis Coffey, who also worked with: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Supremes, Gladys Knight, Ringo Star, The Four Tops and Wilson Pickett. The other producer of 'Cold Fact,' who came in on the story much later in its development (1997), is Mike Theodore. Rodriguez's second album is 'Coming From Reality' (1971) produced by Steve Rowland who also worked with Jerry Lee Lewis, The Cure, Peter Frampton, Gloria Gaynor, Boney M and The Pretty Things.

Coffey and Mike tell a story of their first encounter with Rodriguez, a mysterious harbour bar where Rodriguez played with his back to the audience. I overheard the story being told between musicians in the early 80s. I asked about it but was told it didn't matter. It was considered by the musicians not to be relevant to me.

Though we discussed the advantages of such a technique.

Testimony are interspersed with songs, set to video that pans Detroit at the pace of a slow moving car, either reinvented with CGI or filmed in the present day. It's rockin'.

The last song he recorded was 'Cause,' on 'Coming From Reality' (1971).

'Cause,' is the first song on the album and it's first line is, "I lost my job... two weeks before Christmas." The album was released in November and then, two weeks before Christmas, the studio threw him off the label. I mean... putting the thought out there as your first word into the ear of people considering buying your record... It does seem a little passive aggressive. I would have softened them up with 'I Wonder.' It's my favourite Rodriguez song :)

After 1971, Rodriguez cuts his hair.

'Cold Fact' was up there with "'Abbey Road' by The Beatles and 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' by Simon and Garfunkel and, news to us, it was one of the most famous albums of all time (in South Africa).

Africanas didn't know the word anti-establishment until

they heard it on a Rodriguez song. 'Cold Fact' gave people permission to free their minds and start thinking differently.

Braam was chatting about Rodriguez with his brother Andre one evening and as an experiment they pulled out 'Cold Fact,' which features an obscure picture of Rodriguez in a bubble. I thought it was hoaky and responded appropriately. They laughed, it was the response they were expecting and filed it. Braam started dancing and said, "I need to spend some time with some South Africans." I was offended. Why would he need them when he had me? Now I understand. He really did need to be around South Africans.

Rodriguez sounds more like Neil Young than Bob Dylan but his material attacks political power more than Joan Biaz, than any of the folk singers, a genre defined by political attack.

'Cold Fact' was the anthem for the Africana’s Revolution against Apartheid. And at the core was the Voelry Movement, where every member would have told you they were inspired by Rodriguez.

Ilse Assmann's funny. She takes us into the Archive of Censored Material in Johannesburg, South Africa and shows us banned records with tracks scratched out for

singing words like, "Sugar man... won't you bring back all those colours to my dreams?" Apartheid means people apart, graded by colour and allocated living zones and occupations. It was psychotic.

What Afrikanas did who did not want to speak out against Apartheid, which carried a 3 year jail term, was they listened to the album and enjoyed it. Became empowered by it. Then Sugar realised that you couldn’t buy 'Cold Fact' in America. No one had heard of it. It was a pivotal moment. He began with the names of places through Rodriguez' lyrics, teamed up with Musicologist Detective Craig Bartholomew-Strydom who tried tracking the money and years later heard the line in, 'Inner City Blues',

"Met a girl from Dearborn, early 6 o'clock this morn
A cold fact,"

and hence we have this fine documentary today :)

Locations give us gritty.

Lyrics give us their consequences.

Music stirs us to action.

It was Mike Theodore who broke the news: Dead? He's not dead. Sixto is alive and living in Detroit. We meet

him and celebrate Rodriguez' homecoming to Cape Town in the final part of the film. Braam's parents, Lee and Paul, flew back to South Africa for his first concert in 1998 it was so important.

Why didn't he make it big? Why is he still not big today?

Bendjelloul made this documentary with a light sensibility. He allows people to speak their truth without comment. Some dob themselves in.

He performs in South Africa to sell-out crowds of 20,000 and spends his life working on construction and renovation like it's a sacrament, to the incredulity of his peers in Detroit.

Hopefully, he will make a third album. [I suspect it's because his lyrics were so radical that they seemed silly in cultures that weren't oppressed. South Afica needed him. Shopping in JB Hi Fi a few days ago I heard the, 'I Wonder,' rift and heard a crazy and furious voice going wild all over it. I think he's done it :D (2nd April 2014)]

Copyrighted © Jayne Waterford, 2013.
Malik Bendjelloul's
Release Date 4th October 2012
Category Music Documentary Drama
Running Time 86 minutes (1 hour, 26 minutes)
Rating M
Origin United Kingdom: set in South Africa and Detroit USA
Director Malik Bendjelloul
Stars Rodriguez, Sixto Rodriguez, Jesus Rodriguez, The Sixth Prince, Malik Bendjelloul, Craig Bartholomew Strydom


Official Blurb "In the late ‘60s, a musician was discovered in a Detroit bar by two celebrated producers who were struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. They recorded an album that they believed was going to secure his reputation as one of the greatest
recording artists of his generation. In fact, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumors of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, it became a phenomenon. Two South African fans then set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation led them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez. This is a film about hope, inspiration and the resonating power of music.

Rodriguez was the greatest ‘70s US rock icon who never was. Momentarily hailed as the finest recording artist of his generation, he disappeared into oblivion – rising again from the ashes in a completely different context a continent away. "SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN" is a film about hope, inspiration and the resonating power of music." - MADMAN ENTERTAINMENT PR

Rodriguez at the time of 'Coming From Reality' (1971).

©: 2012 Canfield Pictures / The Documentary Company

©: 2012 Canfield Pictures / The Documentary Company
©: 2012 Canfield Pictures / The Documentary Company
©: 2012 Canfield Pictures / The Documentary Company