News / Arts & Entertainment

US Music Flop Emerges as Anti-Apartheid Anthem

Rodriguez, a folk-rock troubadour from Detroit, cut a couple of albums in the 1970s which flopped in the US. What he didn't know was that his music became popular in South Africa.(Photo by Hal Wilson, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
Rodriguez, a folk-rock troubadour from Detroit, cut a couple of albums in the 1970s which flopped in the US. What he didn't know was that his music became popular in South Africa.(Photo by Hal Wilson, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
Alan Silverman
HOLLYWOOD — Forty years ago, an American singer-songwriter whose music never found an audience at home became a star in South Africa, but he didn't know it until decades later.

A new documentary by a Swedish filmmaker tells the remarkable story of "Searching For Sugar Man."

"It's still a bit of a mystery how the first copy of 'Cold Fact' actually came to South Africa, but it spread very quickly," says Capetown record store owner Stephen Segerman. "To many of us South Africans, he was the soundtrack to our lives."

Segerman is talking about Rodriguez, a folk-rock troubadour from the American midwest city of Detroit who cut a couple of albums in the 1970s. But they flopped and he went on with his life.
Searching for Sugar Man
Searching for Sugar Mani
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X


As Stockholm-based filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul discovered, the music took on a life of its own on the other side of the world.

"In 2006, I was traveling around Africa and South America for six months looking for stories, and in Cape Town I met Stephen "Sugar" Segerman, the detective in the story, and he told me how this all came about and I thought 'this is the best story I ever heard in my life,'" says Bendjelloul. "It's about a man who didn't know he was famous."



In the film, Segerman explains how Rodriguez's songs, including "Sugar Man" and "I Wonder" became anthems for the country's white youth who began to stand up against Apartheid.
Malik Bendjelloul's documentary, Malik Bendjelloul's documentary, "Searching for Sugar Man," about the quest to find Rodriguez, won a special grand jury prize at the 2012 Sundance Festival. (Photo by Sven-Ake Visen, Courtesy Malik BendjelloulSony Pictures Classics
x
Malik Bendjelloul's documentary,
Malik Bendjelloul's documentary, "Searching for Sugar Man," about the quest to find Rodriguez, won a special grand jury prize at the 2012 Sundance Festival. (Photo by Sven-Ake Visen, Courtesy Malik BendjelloulSony Pictures Classics

 "In the 1970s, if you walked into a random white, liberal, middle class household that had a turntable and a pile of pop records…you would always see 'Abbey Road' by the Beatles, 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' by Simon and Garfunkel and 'Cold Fact' by Rodriguez," he says. "To us it was one of the most famous records of all time. The message it had was 'be anti-establishment.' One song is called 'The Anti-Establishment Blues.' We didn't know what the word was until it cropped up on a Rodriguez song, and then we found it's OK to protest against your society, to be angry with your society."

But Rodriguez remained a mystery, and rumors even spread that he had committed suicide during a performance.

Segerman and a South African journalist friend set out to discover the true story.

That quest led them to a run-down Detroit neighborhood where they found their hero, very much alive, but totally unaware of his fame and the impact of his music.
Record store owner Stephen “Sugar” Segerman led the search to find Rodriguez. (Photo by Camilla Skagerström, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)Record store owner Stephen “Sugar” Segerman led the search to find Rodriguez. (Photo by Camilla Skagerström, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
x
Record store owner Stephen “Sugar” Segerman led the search to find Rodriguez. (Photo by Camilla Skagerström, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
Record store owner Stephen “Sugar” Segerman led the search to find Rodriguez. (Photo by Camilla Skagerström, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

Rodriguez is grateful his message found an audience.

"In the film it points out how it was banned from certain radio play and if they don't want you to listen to it and don't want you to talk about it, they really don't want you to think about it either," he says. "I think people need to express themselves."

"Searching For Sugar Man" includes scenes from the 1998 Cape Town concert which marked Rodriguez's first visit to South Africa.

Since then, he's been back several times. He's recording new music and is still commenting on social issues. The documentary won a special grand jury prize at the 2012 Sundance Festival.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings: Nnekai
|| 0:00:00
...  
🔇
X
August 26, 2015 2:42 PM
Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.

Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.