Wisdom of the Sugar Man

Aug 16 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew

I often fantasise about being utterly content with what I have and if it would be possible for me to lead a minimalistic life. I wonder if I am capable of turning my sorrows and disappointments into opportunities to learn and grow. But I cannot seem to go a day without complaining about something or wanting to change something.

Sixto Rodriguez is not like that. I listened to his song "I Wonder" for the first time on "Rock101 with JayP," a former radio show on 105.3 Afro FM. I fell in love with it. Later, as destiny would have it, I ended up going on a date with the host and watching the documentary "Searching for Sugarman," the award-winning film about two fans that go searching for Rodriguez.

This was three years ago. I remember immediately falling in love with the artist and his songs.

Born on July 10, 1942, in the United States, his is a life many people should take lessons from. He did not rise to fame in the country of his birthplace, but South Africans took a shine to him. For them, he is a hero. His lyrics were anthems in the fight against apartheid, and his songs provided a background to the drawn-out struggle against a racist system. From young to old, South Africans loved Rodriguez.

The South Africans were right. His lyrics are poetic, and his voice is mesmerising. But his life is just as fascinating. The documentary was a telling of the unexpected trajectory of his life.

As with many artists in the music industry, he was exploited. The record labels pocketed the money from the international territories he was selling high volumes in and showed him the flop sales in the US market to justify dropping him from the label. He had no idea how big he was in South Africa, Australia or Botswana. He did not receive any of his royalties from the albums he sold there.

Rodriguez spent his life assuming he had somehow failed as a musician and was forced to lead a difficult life working in construction and manufacturing for low wages. Even though it was a job most of us would avoid, he did it with style and art. He held his head up and did not wallow in self-pity and disappointment.

He raised his children and gave his all to his strenuous job, all the while staying grounded. After a long search, he was discovered by two South Africans, who initially like most of his fans were under the impression that he had died. The rest is history, and success and fortune would come to him.

He continued to give his earnings to his family and friends and kept living in the same apartment that he had lived in for four decades.

Not many of us can hold our heads up in the face of hardship. Not only that, but we would also be in conflict with where we were and where we are now. Acceptance is not easy. Denial is easy on the mind.

Rodriguez’s life was a rejection of this. Unfortunately, he never received the spotlight up until a documentary was made about him. But he deserves much respect and love. It is a life from which we can derive the value of perseverance, contentment and the value of being down to earth.

Most people with his ability and genius either pass away too soon without ever finding out what they mean to others or are forgotten completely. But he will be remembered, partly in thanks to his humility, thoughtfulness and willingness to face the music that is life.

PUBLISHED ON Aug 16,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1059]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (kaymina21@gmail.com)

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