Documentary recommendation: searching for sugar man

In the 70s of the last century, apartheid was at its peak in South Africa. The majority is mired in deep poverty, unemployment and inequality. Everything was censored and examined. It is under that context that songs coming across the Atlantic captured people’s notice.

“I wonder how many times you’ve been had
And I wonder how many plans have gone bad
I wonder how many times you had sex” (I wonder)

“The mayor hides the crime rate
council woman hesitates
Public gets irate but forget the vote date
Weatherman complaining, predicted sun, it’s raining
Everyone’s protesting, boyfriend keeps suggesting
you’re not like all of the rest.” (The establishment blues)

These swiftly became the anthem of freedom fighters who were not even allowed to speak “sex” in the public. People are talking about establishment without knowing the exact meaning. An inspiring voice has evoked their discontent towards the injustice society. The spiritual leader, Rodriguez becomes a household name in South African without people knowing details of his life. The only clue was his photo on the album, his appearance being covered by his sunglasses and hat. Meanwhile, Rodriguez, a Detroit musician who had made no fame in America, has been discarded by his record company. He had to work as a decorator in order to make ends meet. He witnessed the suffering of the blue collar and poor immigrant family in America. Painfully, he transformed the misery into something beautiful without anyone recognizing him in his country.

In late 1990s, rumor had it that Rodriguez committed suicide. Two of his fans from Cape Town, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom decided to find out if it is true and most importantly, who Rodriguez was. The story of the mysterious man finally was revealed.

What really touched me is that no matter at his peak or low, Rodriguez always has the almost saintly and magical serenity. As one of his colleagues said, “he has this quality that all genuine poets and artists had, to elevate things, to get above the mundane, the bullshit, all the mediocrity that’s everywhere.” When he finally opened concert in South Africa, he had worked arduously for decades. Someone asked him: what do you think that you could have been a superstar? I don’t know. He said, without pity or anger. He is a hard labor who would wear tuxedo when doing dirty work. He is an oyster who transforms sands to pearls.

The documentary is a tribute to the underestimated singer. Most interviews are conducted, however, with the families and friends of Rodriguez. Rodriguez himself is well drawn on the screen without him saying too much. His walk, his songs … all suggest the lost but crucified mind in that era.

“Street boy
You’ve been out too long
Street boy
Ain’t you got enough sense to go home
Street boy
You’re gonna end up alone
You need some love and understanding
Not that dead-end life you’re planning
Street boy…” (Street boy)

Watch link: http://documentary-movie.com/searching-for-sugar-man/


About the author

Madeline Xia

Madeline is currently a student in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology interested about journalism.

1 Comment

  • Interesting, I’ll try to check it out!

    Wow, ‘Motown City’, Detroit… Rodriguez sounds cool! The problem with Apartheid in that era, many actors and singers back in America/U.K. got involved in the late 1980s when it was about to fall and it was safe for their careers. And sadly, for decades Israel, U.K. and U.S. supported Apartheid. Only few artist like Christopher Reeve, Kevin Kline or Barbara Hershey got involved or had the guts to stand against the system. The rest were unknown artist, because they themselves are minorities back in America and are honestly treated like shit.

    You have amazing stories from that era, like Stephen Biko.

    Plus, South Africa like Detroit, are amazing places. Sadly, two things have been a common for both areas. How the poor and minorities are treated.

    Now, South Africa did eliminate Apartheid, but it still has a long way to go with the drug problems in certain areas like Johannesburg and Capetown. Also the difference on how Afrikanners (White Africans) treat their Zulu and Bantu natives. This hasn’t changed much and it needs too.

    I’d suggest a trip there, it’s an amazing place to see nature. Rich in wines, gold, diamonds and most of all, nature. From Pretoria, Dunbar to Kruger Park, this place is beautiful and South Africans are friendly. At least it was my impression when I was there and took the train across country.

    Further, it’s the land of Mandela, what an great man who believed in the ‘rainbow society’.

    As for America, we cannot look at South Africa and only criticize ‘her’ for being part of the Apartheid system. When the U.S. mistreats African-Americans. I do believe this was the message which was coming from Mister Rodriguez. That first we have to look at ourselves, change ourselves, before we try to change others. I believe deep down, this was his message.

    Well done, Madeline, I always learn something new. Come on, keep it coming and teaching!

    About Mr. Rodriguez’s fame, sometimes we have back home in the U.K. or U.S. crappy artist and we don’t know how in the hell they made it to fame? Then we have other great talents which are simply ignored. The world is certainly unfair, but if ‘we want to change it, we have to start with ourselves’. (Gandhi)

    Thanks and take care!



Leave a Comment