Given new life by the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” singer-songwriter Rodriguez is continuing his tour around the United States, where he has not achieved the level of popularity he has enjoyed for decades in South Africa and other distant lands.
Born in 1942 as Sixto Rodriguez to Mexican parents who had migrated to Detroit to work in the auto industry, the artist has been compared to Bob Dylan.
“I’ve gone on tour four times in Australia, four in South Africa, three in Sweden, six in London and once around the world in three weeks starting in Namibia,” Rodriguez told Efe moments before a performance in San Diego.
His fame in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia and New Zealand was possible because of bootleg copies of his albums “Cold Fact” (1970) and “Coming From Reality” (1971).
Despite rave reviews, the albums sold only marginally in the United States and Sixto returned to obscurity, unaware of his growing cult following abroad.
“As I understand it, there were soldiers against conscription in South Africa, on the border with Angola and Namibia, mainly Afrikaners, who exchanged and circulated the cassettes with my music,” Rodriguez said.
The musician said that only later did he learn of the parallels between the situation in countries where his music became popular and a United States “where there were also movements against conscription, demonstrations against war or the massacre at Kent State (University) when the Ohio National Guard killed four students protesting the invasion of Cambodia.”
Amid rumors that a despondent Rodriguez had committed suicide, two devoted South African fans, Steven Segerman and Craig Strydom, set out in the late 1990s to find out what happened to their idol.
In 1998, they found Rodriguez living in Detroit and that discovery led to a triumphant concert tour of South Africa.
The story of the South Africans’ quest for Rodriguez is depicted in “Searching for Sugar Man,” by Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul, which has sparked another resurgence in Rodriguez’s career. The musician has been on tour for the past nine months.
This tour will take him to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, and he will perform in England and Ireland in November and December.
Rodriguez said he had been “pursuing music since I was 16 with the family guitar.”
“You can make music for women, money, fame or the history of rock & roll. However, music is a pleasure, a way of socializing, dancing and singing. It’s difficult to make a profession out of it,” he says.
Watch the “Searching for Sugar Man” trailer here: