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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 May 2016
Who was Sugar Man, why was he called this, who was searching for him, and why was he being sought?

The answers are complicated and have to do with music, history, politics, international relations.

Sugar Man was a drug dealer in Detroit.

“Sugar Man, won’t you hurry
Cos I’m tired of these scenes.”

So says the addict in the song, desperate for oblivion, for a place to kill his pain, at least temporarily.

The singer is Sixto Rodriguez, an artist few in America had heard of, a singer-songwriter-guitarist whose two albums in the early 1970s went nowhere. But that was the U.S. Elsewhere he was iconic, heroic, talismanic, a legend.

South Africans were the ones searching for him. Or some of them — those inspired by the music, ashamed of what apartheid had done to their country.

Sugar Man appealed to the young white urban middle-class, the educated and liberal. His records made their way to South Africa and for a short time received airplay on local FM stations (until the authorities shut down the music). Word spread, as did bootleg copies of the albums — all two of them (“Cold Fact”, released in 1970 and “Coming from Reality”, released the following year). They flourished underground, played clandestinely in bedrooms, backstreet cafés and at private parties.

It’s hard for us who were not there in the South Africa of the ‘70s to feel what they felt for him. We had never heard of him, and they — young white South Africans — had no idea we never had. To them he ranked with the Beatles and Rolling Stones, a Pied Piper from Hamlin who would lead them to liberation, not doom as in the folktale of old. They hung on his words, analysing and interpreting their significance.

“I wonder about the tears in children’s eyes
And I wonder about the soldier that dies
I wonder will this hatred ever end
I wonder and I worry, my friend
I wonder, I wonder, don’t you?”

Answer: Yes, they did. They wondered about all of it, sick and tired of their political condition and wanting change. If the Beatles sang of revolution and the Stones were street-fighting men, Rodriguez was their revolutionary, his music travelling everywhere to them underground.

“Garbage ain’t collected, women ain’t protected
Politicians using people they’re abusing
The mafia’s getting bigger, like pollution in the river
And you tell me this is where it’s at”

There was no internet in those days. No satellite TV, either. International sanctions against South Africa had isolated the country, turning it into a kind of sunny North Korea. Young whites identified with the oppressed black majority, both groups incarcerated in their different ways. These young whites knew what Mandela stood for and shared the values he prized. They wanted Nelson, themselves and their country freed, but this could only happen, they knew, with the white power structure challenged and dismantled.

Rodriguez gave them hope and courage. “For many of us,” says one South African in the film, “he was the soundtrack of our lives.”

The film is a non-linear chronicle of that strange and beautiful event — the hope and courage he gave people through his music. We begin in South Africa with confessions from several persons, including a music store owner and a music journalist. Later in the story they become important in the search for Sugar Man. Soon thereafter we are in Detroit where Rodriguez grew up and still lives today. The portrait that emerges from those who know him there is of a modest, gentle, hardworking man. Also a loving and loyal one — loyal to his three grown daughters, friends, city, roots and work. What work? Hard labour: roofing, bricklaying, construction, furniture removal. One co-worker says he works with pride, putting in an honest day’s labour because that’s what he can do. Loyal too to the arts which he never abandoned: music, painting, literature and poetry. He went back to university and got a degree in philosophy. He ran for city council and mayor of the city. And when his girls were growing up he took them to libraries, art galleries, science museums and concert halls, just so they would know something about the dimensions of the world.

His daughters love him, clear in everything they say about him, a good man at the centre of their lives. So in a way he’s already rich by the time the South Africans track him down, if richness means love, contentment, peace and acceptance. He is found through the sleuthing of a music journalist: interviews, phone calls, a website and e-mails. He’s invited to South Africa and flies there with his daughters in March 1998. Sold-out concerts, of course. The people scream and cry at them, sing and dance to the music. He’s their own Christ risen from the dead, fulfilling the promise of liberation made to them long ago through his music. He comes to a country free of apartheid whose president is Nelson Mandela. Tears all around, then, for South Africa at this time.

Both fairy stories are true.

As far as we know, success failed to corrupt Sixto Rodriguez. He never left Detroit and he gives away earnings from concerts and royalties to loved ones: family members and friends. He’s happy with his music and the bounty of recognition, seemingly unmoved by the seductions of money.

In a later song he tells us he wants to slip away. From what? That’s the interesting thing:

“Maybe today I’ll slip away

You can keep your symbols of success
Then I’ll pursue my own happiness
You can keep your clocks and routines
Then I’ll go mend my shattered dreams”

In the end his dreams were not shattered, or not entirely. Nor could he completely slip away. He had touched too many and their own dreams and would remain loyal to them as well.
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on 18 August 2015
Having lived in South Africa I was familiar with Rodriquez's music as it was played frequently on the radios. This film documentary was not only a nostalgia trip for me, but was very well executed with some great period clips of Detroit and South Africa. The story deals with his popularity in South Africa during the years of sanctions, and the fact that he had never heard of this popularity. Indeed nobody seemed to know where he was, and thought he had died on stage in the early 1970s. But the main story is the investigation into finding him alive and kicking, living modestly and as a demolition labourer. The sound track is his music. As a singer/songwriter, he reaches into peoples hearts with lyrics so unusual, poignant and philosophical. Fabulous music, logically unfolding investigation and then the meeting with him and his subsequent international recognition. They mention that Sugarman (the song) lyrics were used as an apartheid protest song, but I knew nothing of that, just loved his music.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 June 2015
Wonderful, heartwarming documentary - I'd never heard of Rodriguez before and I was half-expecting the documentary to turn into a Spinal Tap-style "rockumentary" about a fictional singer.

But true life is far, far stranger than fiction and this inspirational film gives hope to everyone that the good guy can win through in the end. I have a few South African friends and I don't think they'd ever mentioned Rodriguez to me before, but when I asked them about him they couldn't believe I hadn't heard of him as he's so well-known in SA. I think they now realise that this was a peculiarly SA phenomenon at first, but that's obviously all changed since this film was released. Wonderful stuff!
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VINE VOICEon 19 January 2013
Thank you, Amazon, for your 'recommedations' feature. And thank goodness I decided to step out of what I thought would be my comfort zone (I'm a musical snob) and give this a try. It's going to be watched and watched and watched and given to friends and it should be in school syllabuses and BBC4 and generally wherever people who don't know about it will stumble across it and be enchanted.

Stupidly, I hadn't read the reviews before buying it. So when the first shots opened with the road to Cape Point (South Africa) I was gripped - I worked in South Africa, on the side of the angels, for many years and if you've lived there for any length of time it never leaves you. So I'm back somewhere beautiful, and believe me the rest of the film is visually stunning. As a piece of cinema, it's up there with the giants.

Then you get Rodriguez's story. A singer/songwriter every bit as talented as Dylan - that's no exaggeration - for a bunch of silly reasons his career never took off in the USA. (We're talking 1970s here). But copies of his records reached South Africa, where they became underground classics precious to the white revolutionaries who hated apartheid. So - and this is almost unbelievable to inhabitants of today's global village - Rodriguez was 'bigger than Elvis, bigger than the Beatles' in South Africa but he never knew it. He was cleaning up garbage and living in a coldwater flat in Detroit while his words and music were inspiring a generation half a world away. (You might find this difficult to believe, but South Africa was so culturally isolated in the 1970s and 1980s that it wasn't much different from the old Soviet Union; it only got television in 1976, and that was one, government-run, channel).

Back to the story, which is told by a few SA enthusiasts who decided to look for Rodriguez. They thought he was dead, but they wondered what had happened to him. So you cut to shots of middle-aged Afrikaners talking about meeting American visitors, mentioning Rodriguez as you or I might mention Lennon & McCartney, and wondering why they got no reaction. 'You mean you've never heard of him?' So they started a search, aided by the internet ... and the ending is more wonderful than a fiction writer would dare script. The ending brings you more wonderful people full of generosity and hope.

The music is wonderful. The voices are pure - and so are the motives. I can't imagine anyone not being caught up in the experience. Please buy it for yourself and for any friends who are already happy or need to be made happy.
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on 10 February 2016
Although this is a documentary film, it stands up with some of the greatest dramas.
Isolated under the apartheid regime, ordinary South Africans listening to popular western music, made Rodriguez' album Cold Fact an anthem for the age. When, in later years, it was realised this album was not an international success, two fans set out to discover who Rodriguez was, and what happened to him. This film tells their story, and that of their favourite singer using his songs as the soundtrack, and introducing a new generation to his music. This a moving film you will want to rewatch, and you'll probably buy the soundtrack, I know I did.
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on 3 January 2013
Great story and lovely, hopeful, positive documentary that leaves you with the "feel good" factor instead of instilling yet more gloom!

The subject - Sixto Rodriguez, is a wonderful "lost" talent, now found and receiving the acclaim that was his due over 40 years ago. Saw him in Bristol on 1st December (2012) and was one of the best gigs I have ever been to. Fantastic evening and fantastic talent. Thank you to those responsible for bringing him to the world's attention and hope that your next documentary is as uplifting!

I suggest that rather than buying the soundtrack you buy Rodriguez's original CDs Cold Fact and Coming From Reality, they really are timeless classics and not dated at all. Rodriguez's voice is wonderfully mellow and a tiny bit like a cross between Donovan/Nick Drake. I am playing them constantly on my iPod and have not sickened of them after several months! "I Think Of You" must be one of the most poignant love songs ever and deserves to become a classic, recorded by all and sundry. [ASIN:B001BKVWYG Cold Fact] [ASIN:B001TCHDPS Coming From Reality]

Going back to the documentary (!), it really unfolds in a surprising way and the interview with Rodriguez at the end is very sweet - such a lovely, modest and super talented man. Hope he gets both recognition and all the money that has been raked in from CD sales in South Africa/Australia and now worldwide,(that his record company received but apparently did not pass onto him), so that he has a comfortable life and can concentrate on producing more music for his fans.

See my review on the Sugarman website [...]

Entry #: 2661

Entry Date: 2012-12-08 08:41:57

Name: Jan Morris
When did you first discover Rodriguez?: 1st December 2012 - Bristol's Colston Hall
Where are you from?: Bristol - South West UK
Visitor Comments: I went to see him last Saturday in Bristol - the Colston Hall was rammed (sell-out) with fans who gave him such an enthusiastic welcome, I was really proud. They/we loved him. If only that feeling could be bottled and consumed, we'd be high for years. What a night, what a man! I have been to many great gigs over the years, stand-outs are: Rolling Stones, The Who, Kinks, Hendrix (when I was about 13 - at Colston Hall again) Roxy Music, Elbow, etc., but I have never been to one where the audience were so instantly engaged - they were wild for him. He got a standing ovation after many of his numbers, particularly wild after Sugarman of course. He just stood there modestly and I think bemused by the reaction. Fans singing along to his lyrics and dancing in the aisles at his encore (and before). An amazing voice, great lyrics and melodies. Just didn't want it to end. How could he have been kept away from world-wide success for so long? Guess there must be thousands like him out there? Only hope that he is releasing more material soon. I am wearing out my CDs and can't wait for the release of the Sugarman DVD, later this month. I also wanted to see his support band - Phantom Limb. Fantastic band from Bristol, who I believe have toured as his backing band during his tour in the UK. They are brilliant musicians too and provided wonderful support to Sixto. They deserve fame and recognition too. Yolanda Quartey's voice totally amazing - you should check her and the band out. Just a wonderful night that I will always remember. Sixto .... I think of you! Xx
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on 12 February 2018
I was totally gripped by this documentary/ movie, the story humbled me, touched me and angered me. The life story of this amazing musician , a singer/songwriter who weaved beautiful real life stories into his songs with hunting melodies. If you love your musical history or just love dylanisk lyrics. Then give this a go!
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on 23 March 2016
As touching a musical documentary/story as we are likely to ever but ever see. I am not personally 100% sold on his music but his storyline is so powerful and touching it made me glad to be alive. Make sense? It does to me. And while I am unhappy to have to share this planet with those who would keep Sixto Rodriguez's money from him I am proud to share the planet with Mr. Rodriguez himself. It is a pity he did not win when he ran for elected office, he would have made a brilliant (and honest) servant of the public.
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on 24 May 2015
We were searching for something to watch on Prime Instant Video and stumbled on this because of all the positive reviews. So glad we followed all the recommendations - you should too. I knew nothing about the man or the music and really that is the point of the story - neither did anybody else. Difficult to review in depth without offering spoilers so I would just say watch this, it's a fantastic documentary, the story is very well told and as a 'true story' I was gripped as it developed and loved the soundtrack. Now off to buy the album!
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on 26 November 2013
I bought this on recommendation, not realising that it was a documentary style film. I found the beginning very slow, and then it really took off. I loved it when his daughter described going to South Africa expecting to perform to a small crowd in a club or something and their amazement when they realised the size of the venue and the immense audience her father was to perform before. He walked out on to the stage with just his guitar to rapturous applause and couldn't even start singing due to the noise. Some of the crowd didn't believe it was him as stories of his death had been circulating for some time. A wonderful moment. I have since bought copies for friends and a couple of his CDs. I would certainly recommend this.
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