In a historical performance last night at the LA Film Festival’s Grammy night, Voices for Change (see my video clip at the end of post), a jet-black haired, black hat clad older man in a bright green suit was helped onstage and delivered a breathtaking, albeit short set. I stared in awe at his huge fingers powerfully and dexterously strumming the guitar and deeply connected to his significant lyrics, mesmerized by his voice (think a raw version of James Taylor). His weary and slight 69 year old body is no doubt the result of his back breaking working-class roots, construction labor his trade for decades save for a short moment in the late 60s and early 70s when he worked on his music only to have his commercial debut flop and step back into obscurity. This is Mexican-American singer/songwriter Sixto Diaz Rodriguez who is being rediscovered, or rather finally being discovered in the United States, thanks in part to the upcoming documentary Searching for Sugarman. Here’s the trailer:
The film by Stockholm based Malik Bendjelloul opened the World Cinema Documentary Competition at Sundance and was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. The film shows us the lore that followed his so called disappearance which reached mythological legend (that he committed suicide among other theories). This whole time he was living a hardscrabble life in Detroit. (So if you dont want anyone to find you, go to Detroit). Watching the film I was so inspired by Rodriguez’s quiet zen and humble aura. The accepting manner with which he played the unfair cards life dealt him is as unbelievable as the fact that while he was toiling away he became a star on another continent. English his second language, the Detroit singer’s 1970 record, Cold Fact became a huge hit in South Africa where he is bigger than Jimi Hendrix. His lyrics are classic, anthemic and socially and politically prescient than ever, from “Establishment Blues” (The mayor hides the crime rate, council woman hesitates, public gets irate but forget the vote date) to “Sugarman” which when he performed, he prefaced by saying the lyrics (“colors to my dreams, silver ships”, and the literal “coke and sweet Mary Jane”reference is not based on drug experiences (yeah right). Instead he told the audience to “Stay smart, don’t start” and “Hugs, not drugs”. I highly encourage you to read his poems that form his body of work on the Sugarman website here. New original songs are included in the film which will be released in LA and NY July 27. A very touching and incredible story about a first generation Mexican-American whose voice was suppressed for many years at a time when the last name Rodriguez was perhaps too ethnic for the mainstream I thank Malik for making the film and hope it reaches audiences beyond the east and west coast. Hopefully his upcoming appearance on the Letterman show will help. Here’s a short highlight clip of the evening.