Star rating – 9/10
Have you heard of the musician Sixto Rodriguez? Probably not - but you are in good company. This uplifting gem of a documentary from Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul tells the story of how the gifted anti establishment singer was virtually ignored in his native America, but became an elusive and mysterious super star in apartheid era South Africa.
It seems ridiculous that someone could be so famous in part of the world and be totally unaware of their own popularity, but Rodriquez did not know about, and certainly did not receive any income from, the estimated half a million South Africans who had copies of his records. Those close to him, either via family or work connections, describe him as a prophet, and a man not concerned with the material trappings of life. Meanwhile in South Africa it was rumoured that he had died, with various bizarre stories of how his demise had come about in popular circulation.
His ‘rebirth’ came courtesy of two South African men who were curious about what had happened to the man who was at one time much bigger than the Rolling Stones in their country. They began their detective work separately at first, but joined forces when they found out about their similar searches.
Rodriguez, with his Mexican background and poignant lyrics that come down firmly on the side of the oppressed and downtrodden, was a bootleg sensation in South Africa. He also wrote about drugs and sex, at a time when such topics were strictly taboo there. His records were censored by the apartheid military regime, with key tracks being literally scratched out so they were unplayable. Meanwhile in America he was working as a jobbing labourer, with any profits from what legal record sales there were mysteriously disappearing. Needless to say the record company executive does not come out of this smelling of roses.
This beautiful film reaffirms your belief in the goodness of human nature, and Rodriguez’s rejection of materialist trappings is an extremely humbling story. And his poignant songs, with their powerful and deep lyrics, will I am sure be rightly sought out as a result of it.