The Story of Rodriguez and the Learning it has for Everyone’s Life


    There have been times in our career when we start questioning the value of the work that we do. It is quite easy for us to fall prey and sometime become doubtful about the meaningfulness of the work that we do. However, such doubts shouldn’t be a deterrent for us to give our best to the work that we do as you never know how this work will manifest in future?

    After some contemplation, I felt I should tell you a story. A beautiful story and a real one!!
    It is the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a Mexican migrant settled in downtown Detroit in 1970s. Sixto was a small time musician playing gigs in bars of rundown part of Detroit. Sixto caught attention of a producer of a big music label, as a result ‘Viola!’ Sixto’s first music album was out! However, it badly flopped. His second album did even worse. This setback pushed Sixto out of music industry and Sixto returned to a demolition company in Detroit working as a blue collar worker. Where, Sixto Rodriguez was living a simple, low-key life. Unbeknown to him, that a handful of his 1970 debut album, “Cold Fact,” had reached Austrailia months after it failed in America.
    Some Austrailian Radio DJs got their hands on the album and began playing “Sugar Man” on the radio. As a result the Australian record stores went crazy about the album. “Cold Fact” became as popular as an album could be in Austrailia. Sixto had no idea about all this.

    In Australia and then in South Africa, Rodriguez’s lyrics, about overcoming hardship, made him more popular than even Elvis Presley and also bigger than the Rolling Stones. Part of the reason why his album became so popular in South Africa was that many of his songs served as anti-apartheid anthems and were used in protests. Other than his music, people around the world knew nothing about “Rodriguez.” They had no idea what he looked like, where he lived, or anything about his personal life. He was an international man of mystery! There were also rumours that Sixto committed suicide during one of his live performances. This however didn’t deter some hardcore Australian fans to finally track down Sixto Rodriguez. They got him to Australia for a series of concerts in 1979. He had never played a concert before, just bars and clubs was all that he handled. This time Sixto Rodriguez played to 15,000 people in Sydney and the show was a roaring success with fans signing every word of his decades old songs. After this successful tour of his Sixto once again went back to work as a demolition man!

    While all this was happened, South Africa continued simmering under Rodriguez’s craze. A music journalist and Rodriguez”s fan Stephen Segermen  launched a website dedicated to him and was able to get in touch with Rodriguez’s daughter in 1997.Rodriguez’s was in awe to learn about his fame in South Africa. Rodriguez then went on tour in South Africa! He performed in 6 concerts, in front of thousands and thousands of fans! Sixto was now living his dream! His rediscovery in South Africa in 1998 allowed him to retire from his job, and tour the country for a couple of years. Afterwards, he began to perform in Europe.

    A Swedish filmmaker named Malik Bendjelloul first heard about Sixto Rodriguez while traveling through Africa. He immediately thought his story was incredible and wanted to capture his life into a short film for the Swedish television. Pretty quickly, Malik knew he had a huge story on his hands. But he had one main issue: funding. He decided to approach two of Britain’s top documentary producers for help. But even with the help of the two big-named producers, Malik Benjelloul only secured funding that covered a year of expenses and production costs. The film actually took three years to make! When funding ran out, Benjelloul used the one dollar Super 8 app on his iPhone to finish the documentary.

    There was only one other problem in the making of the film: Sixto Rodriguez initially refused to appear in it. “His kids told me I could probably meet him, but I shouldn’t get my hopes up about an interview,” Bendjelloul explained. “I went to Detroit every year for four years. He didn’t agree to be interviewed until my third visit.

    After overcoming all obstacles, Malik Benjellou’s film, “Searching For Sugar Man” was nominated for the best documentary feature at the Academy Awards. And it went on to win the award for the best documentary feature at the 85th Academy Awards in 2002. “Searching For Sugar Man” was a roaring success at the box office when it was released in the U.S. Malik Bendjelloul begged Rodriguez to attend the Oscars, but in vain. Sixto thought it would take the attention away from the filmmakers. Rodriguez said, “I was asleep when it won, but my daughter Sandra called to tell me. I don’t have TV service anyway.” So not only did he refuse to attend, he was asleep when the film won the award! Sixto Rodriguez’s life was totally transformed since “Searching for Sugar Man.” The Academy Award victory took his fame to the next level. After the Oscar win, Sixto began to play sold out shows all over New York and in music festivals around the world. Some of his shows even sell out in minutes!

    People just love to see him perform live and he loves to do that! Despite all the success and money, Sixto still lives in the same old modest house in downtown Detroit that he has for the last 40 years. Sixto Rodriguez has no computer, car or television. He still lives a very Spartan life. Sixto once told his daughter “there’s three basic needs – food, clothing and shelter. Once you get down to that level, everything else is icing.”
Sixto is still the same person he was before all the fame. He is friendly, down to earth and he is doing what he loves most-“creating music”!!

Posted by Niraj Trivedi



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