Review: ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ (M) *** and a half

COMPARED with heavily-promoted over-paid, self-indulged “celebrity” singers of contemporary popular music, Sixto Rodriguez is a failure. In the 1970s, he released two albums that got critical praise, but bombed in the stores.

That is, until, while apartheid still throve, he toured South Africa where he’s bigger than the Rolling Stones, selling albums and, since 1998, playing to SRO concerts at which much of documentarist Malik Bendjelloul’s film devotes its time. Cape Town record store owner Stephen Segerman and music journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom knew how big Rodriguez was in that country. They tracked him down and the film is the result.

Bendjelloul’s powerful film displays a man of profound talent and personal humility whose songs (he seldom performs other people’s compositions) vibrate with love and concern for humanity. He has lived in the same house in a down-at-heel Detroit suburb for more than four decades. For much of that time, the urban myth has been that he was dead. Some of the theories about that would amuse, were they not so pervasive – and wrong.

The film doesn’t mention that Rodriguez has visited Australia, but apparently he has. The word is that he will return for the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival in March. Until then, fans will find this film an acceptable substitute.

At Capitol 6

 

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