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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

An Artist Lost and Found

Picture this: In 1968, a young Mexican-American singer-songwriter plays for a crowd in a Detroit club, a crowd that includes two producers in the music industry. Thinking they’ve found the “Chicano Bob Dylan,” they sign him to their label and quickly release two albums in the early ‘70s. Despite critical success, the albums flop commercially. The artist fades into obscurity; hazy news of his death makes the rounds, the most popular rumor being that he committed suicide onstage.

In the meantime, however, a bootleg copy of his first album makes its way to South Africa in the mid-’70s. Its anti-establishment tone grips young Afrikaners living under and opposed to the Apartheid regime. The government bans the records, which only fans the flame, and soon his name is a household word in South Africa. In the mid-‘90s, after his second album is finally released there on CD, two fans dig into the mystery surrounding his death. Imagine their surprise when they instead find him alive and well, completely unaware of his South African fame, working construction in Detroit.

This may sound like the premise of a Hollywood film, but it’s not. It’s the completely true story of the artist Rodriguez, and the subject of the documentary film Searching for Sugar Man. Filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul began making the film in 2006 after hearing the story from Stephen Segerman, one of the South African fans who set out to discover what had become of Rodriguez. After five years of work, the film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, winning the World Cinema Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary. It opened July 27 in New York and Los Angeles, and will be coming to theaters across the country in the coming months. (Click here for the film’s trailer, premiere dates, and more info.)

As for Rodriguez himself, he has returned to music since discovering his fame. He toured South Africa in 1998, and has been back several times since. His music has been rediscovered in his native U.S. as well, with both of his albums, Cold Fact (1970) and Coming from Reality (1971), being reissued in 2009. The soundtrack for Searching for Sugar Man released on July 24, containing selections from each album. He’s also embarking on a U.S. tour (with some international dates sprinkled in) to coincide with the film.

We’ll bring you details on this fascinating story’s DVD/Blu-ray release when they’re announced.

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