For every genius we have, imagine how many countless others have slipped through the cracks and gone unnoticed. By accident and political circumstance, one such artist was given a second life half way around the world.
Imagine for a moment that you are an American folk singer in the early 1970s. You put out two albums that, according to your producers, will make you bigger than Bob Dylan. Everyone in the industry thinks you’e a genius. And then nobody buys your records. The public ignores you. The music labels are dumbfounded but have no choice to drop you and move on.
At the same time, your first album, Cold Fact, somehow makes it to South Africa. Unbeknownst to you or anyone in the music industry, your songs explode in popularity and provide the anti-establishment anthems for an entire generation. In South Africa, you are bigger than Elvis and the Rolling Stones, and nobody outside of South Africa knows this, including you.
How is this possible? South Africa during the 1970s was a very closed place. The apartheid regime ensured that they had a tight control over any and all information coming into and out of the country. The international embargo against the country made this even easier. Keep in mind that this was before the age of internet and social networks. Eventually, South Africans come to know of your on-stage suicide. Although they are not sure how you killed yourself, they are intrigued and love you all the more because of your tragic story.
In the 1980s, a couple of South African fans decide to investigate the life and death of their country’s greatest musical icon. They begin by deciphering lyrics and a lot of old school card catalog library research. They find some of the musician’s family and former producers. And when they try to find out how exactly he died, they discover that he never committed suicide, that he is alive and working as a construction worker.
The artist in question is Sixto Rodriguez and Searching for Sugar Man is the documentary that explores how a humble singer from Detroit became the most popular artist in South Africa (without ever knowing about it), and what happens when his fans find out that he’s alive. It is, without a doubt, one of the best films I have ever seen. Find it. Watch it.