This is the question underlying the entire documentary tracing the life and career of Sixto Rodriguez the author and singer of the Sugar Man.
Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul uses the search for mystery musician swallowed by history, Sugar Man, as the basis of his film. His film uses all the stuff any film school absolutely prohibits, is surprising, moving, interesting and visually beautiful with out of focus images, scratchy images, animation, well staged shots, repetition and interviews all mixed up to preset what really is a search for a piece of truth. Anything goes, and it goes and it's not boring, it's fun.
Sixto Rodrigues is repeatedly described by music producers , talent hunters, distributors and audience as one of the most remarkable singers they ever worked with. One of the most talented, finest musicians far better than Bob Dylan.
No one has ever heard of Sixto Rodriguez in the USA.
Rodriguez recorded two complete albums and a part of third one. The first two were produced and died among popular trash of the 70s music industry without a trace.
Even now, after the Oscar movie, Kimberley Jones writes that his music "recalls Donovan, Dylan and Nick Drake". It doesn't. It might make you recall the best of much earlier music of people mostly forgotten who wrote songs like Brother Can You Spare a Dime?
Why? Unlike middle class Bob Dylan who had the mean to take off for the Greenwich Village and bounce around there until he completed his salable, fake personality to promote his songs, Sixto Rodriguez is the real deal. The mixed blood laborer with talent. No money, no fake stories, no promotion.
Just first class music. It got him right back where he started: to hard labor with low pay.
He was given to understand that he didn't have it.
He did have it.
Rodriguez sold at least half million records in South Africa where he is bigger than Elvis. Rodriguez collected no royalties from those records, nor did he know there were any to collect. Yet, journalist Craig Bartholomew verified that those royalties were paid to Clarence Avant Motown records owner who signed and dropped Rodriguez under smaller label Sussex Records.
I think that Avant made a "business" decision; if he sold close to million of Rodriguez's records in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa without paying Rodriguez anything, then it was more profitable for Avant than keeping him on and paying him. All Avant had to do, was to get rid Of Rodriguez, and that was easy as Rodriguez had no connections or protection.
Welcome to the USA and keep talking about the unlimited opportunities we all have as long as we work hard.
Rodriguez became the voice of a whole apartheid down movement, but he was kept in dark about this and kept working in construction target of jokes and regarded as some freak or homeless guy who pretends to play the guitar.
Even after very successful tour in South Africa, nothing changed for him in the US.
In 1997, Stephen "Sugar" Segerman set up a website, called "The Great Rodriguez Hunt" looking for a singer of Cold Fact , a legend and a hero to many South Africans who disappeared in the 70s. Craig Bartholomew decided to continue the search after a number for a record producer rang one day but was disconnected the day after. Money, said Bartholomew, is the key.
The that film traces talented singer through dread of industrial poverty in Detroit is made with the help of EU money. The opening weekend of an Oscar winning documentary brought in less than $28,000. Unlike many, it did not have a 100+ theaters to open in.
Looking for Sugar Man revealed how little people know about the real USA. Segerman dissects Rodriguez's texts and comes with clues : inner city, Amsterdam and London- it never crosses his mind that it might be NYC, and that's good, because to him unknown Dearborn, home town of Ford automobile, does bring him to Rodriguez and his family.
Rodriguez, as it turns out, did not set himself on fire nor shot himself.
Nor did he lose his talent.
Hidden behind his dark glasses, quiet dignified man, he reveals as little about himself as possible, acts naturally in all environments and expects nothing. At the end, the singer is found but the man remains a mystery.
Segerman sees a man who transformed suffering into beautiful music, I see a man fully aware of his abilities, never giving up, so intelligent that he fully understands that the system is against him and that he really has no way of winning.
When Rodriguez' daughter says that her father always took them where beauty and knowledge was, as if they belonged there, to the places where only the privileged walk, she single handedly strikes down the American myth of equality.
Americans are brought up in cast system as firm as that of old India, within the boxes they are born into they might do well if they are lucky, if a need rises among the ruling cast to find a performing monkey for the lower class, they might be elevated to be that monkey. Ability, hard work, honesty and talent are sign to the powerful that you are ripe for plucking an d plucked you will be.
The myth of success comes to all deserving is do deeply entrenched that comments on IMDb site mostly disparage Rodriguez whose talent is unmistakable. Nitpicking is the favorite of right wing tactics, when large facts cannot be disputed, divert and nick pick to obtuse the problem rather than deal with it.
Rodriguez is as inconvenient today as he was 40 years ago. he is still mixed blood poor and talented. Still honest, unpretentious and famous. He is the representative of the people he sings about and he lives among them. From the point of view of American ruling class Rodriguez is an aberration.
I have a question. Six to, how far off is that from Sioux as to Lakota, Mr. Rodriguez?
It might that that despite his superb music Sixto Rodriguez's greatest gift to his people might be showing them what kind of system they live in.
Director/screenwriter: Malik Bendjelloul
Producers: Simon Chinn, Malik Bendjelloul
Executive producer: John Battsek
Director of photography: Camilla Skagerstr???m
Music: Sixto Rodriguez
Editor: Malik Bendjelloul