While traveling through Africa and South America in 2006, Swedish filmmaker, Malik Bendjelloul, met record shop owner Stephen “Sugar” Segerman who told him about Rodriguez, whose story then became the subject matter for his latest documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Malik says, “When Stephen told me about Rodriguez, I was completely speechless.” He continues, “I hadn’t heard a better story in my life.” Five years in the making, Malik’s documentary is about the discovery of a charismatic Mexican-American singer/songwriter from Detroit in the late ‘60s who becomes more famous than the Beatles. Rodriguez’s fame and longevity is one that he never knew until the making of Malik’s documentary.
Malik’s journey for a story started with archival facts about the 1968 Detroit, Michigan, music scene from Segerman and “musicologist detective” Craig Bartholemew, two producers who would hang out in bars looking for raw musical talent. One such talent named Rodriguez, an unknown recording artist who had a large local following, might peak their interest. The producers were pleasantly taken with Rodriguez’s sound, his style and poetic lyrics. Rodriguez collaborated with the two producers that recorded the album Cold Fact to great reviews. Oddly though, Rodriguez’s musical tones and moans of soul coupled with anti-establishment messages went down in history as a “commercial disaster.” His career ended and he dropped out of sight. Rodriguez’s disappearance was debated for years; the most dreadful story told was that, due to his depression of a failed career, he committed suicide by setting himself on fire on stage. Several attempts were made to find out if the suicide story was true but no one ever got to the bottom of his personal life because no one succeeded in finding him.
A bootleg copy of Cold Fact surfaced in South Africa in the ‘70s. It rose in popularity because it was the era when South Africa was becoming isolated during Apartheid. Cold Fact’s message resonated among the white, liberal youth and, in reaction to the effect it had on a whole generation, the government banned the album. The clincher was the rumored death of the artist which placed him in high esteem: dying for a cause. Cold Fact became the battle cry for the South African white resistance and for twenty years Rodriguez was their hero.
The mystery behind the legend continued to puzzle Rodriguez’s die-hard fans Segerman and Bartholemew. They teamed up to complete a research project about Rodriguez which led them to investigate the royalties made from the Cold Fact album. One tip after another led them on a treasure hunt worth more than a chest of gold. Their discovery allowed Malik to produce one of the most amazing human interest stories ever told about a rock star. Malik shares in Searching for Sugar Man an inspirational testimonial about the integrity of a musician who underestimated the power of music (his music) with a message once sent to another world. (Karen Pecota)
Starts December 27
Original language: English