Video: Waiting for Sugar Man”
We had a stand in tutor who presented a video which was a documentary film about a little known musician (especially in his home country of the United States) but well known and nearly cult status in South Africa. HIs name Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, who is a Mexican American folk musician based in Detroit, Michigan. His career initially proved short lived, with two little-sold albums in the early 1970s and some brief touring in Australia. The movie addresses his interesting life through those he touched and the myth around his short initial career.
Based in Detroit, a city that even in the 1970s was decaying in many ways, this musician wrote and performed his songs in small venues, dark and often smoke-filled and often facing away from the crowd. He lived on odd jobs as his main source of income and was a private and quiet person not letting on publicly of his gift for music.
Little did he know that as his album sales failed in the USA they took off in South Africa, a country torn up by apartheid and filled with people looking for music that reflected how they felt about their country and their lives.
Through one person bringing in a copy of his album, the word spread about this amazing musician and his lyrics. Even though banned in the country, his music managed to reach many people who became avid fans.
Suddenly in the mid 1970s word spread that this talented artist had committed suicide. He seemed to disappear and most thought he had died. Even with this the music lived on in South Africa to the next generation.
So, what really happened to him? Someone in South Africa wanted to find out the real story. He created a web site and began the search by using the words in the songs to lead him to the home of Rodriguez.
Outside of Detroit and from a message from someone saying that they were his daughter, came the answer. Indeed, Rodriguez was alive and well and living a life in the USA. Rodriguez had gone back to work over the years doing demolition, building and construction. He had married, had daughters and had been active in local politics, social welfare and making sure that his daughters received a good education and were exposed to galleries, museums, libraries and music even though very poor.
Which leads to an interesting interview with the USA distributor of his records to South Africa. Initially congenial when talking about what a nice guy and talented musician Rodriguez was, when asked about where all the money went from sales in South Africa, turned quite abrupt and aggressive. To me, a true give away of someone who had feathered his nest on income that may not have been due to him. The story didn’t follow up on that and Rodriguez comes across as the easy going sort of person that would, if he knew, let it all go.
Fortunately, as is often not the case for the nice guys in the world, during the 1990s, after all the investigating into whether Rodriguez was indeed alive, contact as made with him and he was given a fantastic reception in South Africa. He did several concerts there which sold out and he was in his “place” in the world.
Rodriguez still lives in his same home of many years. He has passed on his new income to family and friends and lives just well enough for himself. He still works doing other things.
He now plays his music to a wider audience and has the recognition that many of us as artists work so hard for and long for before we die. He was so well grounded, such a centred and sensible person, so willing to turn his hand to other important things in his life such as family and take what came with grace, that you can’t help but admire him.
He is a modest man, talented and driven to make his life meaningful in whatever way he can. It was just great to see that things came around in the long run to enable him to return to his passion of performing his music and enjoying sharing it with many followers.
My Main Lesson From the Movie
I started off life wanting to be an artist. I started learning and producing art until my early twenties. I then had to get work and pay rent etc so spent the next thirty years as a graphic artist/designer etc for the print industry in different segments of the trade. Not what I had hoped for but I worked and travelled, kept trying to improve myself and met a great man and married. After being made redundant in 2009, I thought we were in big trouble however, life was just turning around for me also. My husband encouraged me to return to my passion, to go back to school and begin again that journey to fine art.
I am on the way again. You just can’t think that the first red light in your life means that it is the end forever. It may be a necessary different road for you to come back even better than you would have been had you not taken it. It may be a family you may not have had, or meeting the partner you married, or learning the basic business skills that will now be a solid foundation for an arts practice. Like Rodriguez you need to be open to what happens and make the most of it.