Searching for Sugar Man is a music lover’s delight and covers a tale any true storyteller can appreciate. The story starts surrounds a pair of South Africans, one a passionate music lover and a journalist, chronicling their wild goose chase across the world searching for a voice without a trace. The voice belonged to the mysterious music prodigy Rodriguez, a folk singer who popped up in the early 1970’s and caused a frenzy in Detroit before disappearing.
Director Bendjelloul adds vivid illustrations and comics of the existence and journey of Rodriguez while the seekers do the hunting and we follow along like anxious children awaiting results. From Detroit music producers to regular working class people to officials and journalists in South Africa, the tale spans generations and many people as they declare their love for a musician who nearly faded away for good but was found with some hard detective work constructed out of passion for a musical voice that couldn’t be forgotten.
Searching for Sugar Man isn’t just a powerful tale about a search for a voice. We get to hear the voice as the search goes on. Rodriguez supplies the tunes for the soundtrack, a wide array of mythical story building folk tales about existence and anti-establishment blues. Think of a mixture of Dylan (foresight in lyrical work), Cash(the persona) and add a dash of mystery and mystique and you have Rodriguez. He lived and recorded in Detroit but was only a hit in South Africa.
Why? Until the late 90’s, he was only a voice, a legend heard and never seen. Craig Bartholomew and Segerman come to find out Rodriguez’s album didn’t sell in the U.S.A. and he only becomes a force in another country because his words spoke to the people there. Here is a man who played for 20,000 South Africans while he did construction work in the USA, where his story began. Imagine if you couldn’t get your fellow neighbors to buy your music but over a body of water and several thousands of miles away, you were Elvis. It isn’t until late in his life that Rodriguez is given the true show his voice deserves.
A truly amazing story and movie that makes you believe in the power of music. Before he was rediscovered, Rodriguez was a construction worker, father, hard blue collar citizen and a man who didn’t care for material things. After a show, he would give the proceeds to family and friends and went back to his house in Detroit. The movie retains some mystery to the man, or as his daughter Eva explains, “a need to keep a fantasy alive”. To many people, Rodriguez was a drifter who could captivate a room so bad they went storming into the street asking for copies of the music only to be disappointed when none existed.
Theories were developed on his demise but the only one that mattered was that, similar to Dylan, Rodriguez’ music didn’t speak to Americans the way it did to South Africans. This isn’t a black and white tale. This story is full of grand color and a sound that won’t leave your head.
It is indeed a must see film. One of those fascinating stories that is completely true and devoid of soft fiction. When he played in South Africa the people had never seen him or knew anything about him except for his 28 year old music. Talk about living on the strength of your craft alone. Searching for Sugar Man is profound movie about a one of a kind talent and teaches a lesson about the power of music. If it’s strong enough, it will never die.