Tour brings Sugar Man legend Rodriguez to Tasmania

Australia has played a little-known role in the captivating career of US songwriter Sixto Rodriguez.

STREET POET: Rodriguez's music inspired the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa without him knowing. Picture: Getty Images

STREET POET: Rodriguez's music inspired the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa without him knowing. Picture: Getty Images

Long before he gained late mainstream success upon the 2012 release of the Oscar-winning documentary about him, Searching for Sugar Man, the Detroit-based musician was discovered during the 1970s by Australian music fans. 

His two albums, Cold Fact (1970) and Coming from Reality (1971), gained no traction in the US upon their release. 

It was in South Africa where his songs had most influence, even energising the anti-apartheid movement, while his following in Australia was large enough for him to tour the country in 1979 and again in 1981. 

He formed a connection to Australia which endures.

“Deep at the core, deep at the core,” he describes it.

His socially-conscious songs, inspired by the industrial city he grew up in, speak of themes that have resonated with listeners overseas. 

After his albums failed to gain airplay in the US, he worked in construction, unaware that his music had gained a large following in South Africa. 

Rodriguez became a mysterious figure there, and fans began searching for him. They investigated grotesque rumours he had died by setting himself on fire onstage.

When his daughter learned of his popularity there, she contacted them to say her father was alive and well in Detroit. 

Rodriguez visited South Africa in 1998 playing to sold out shows, and has returned several times since. 

Despite the belated success, he hasn’t left the house he bought for US$50 in the 1970s at a government auction.

He’s given away money he’s made in recent years.

Although it didn’t go to plan, the musician is glad his life played out as it did.

Rodriguez, a ‘solid 74’ years of age, has run for public office in Detroit several times and remains politically-minded.

“You can make change anywhere, be a teacher, anything, anything you wish, and I think that’s the urgency of what I have to say.”

Many parallels exist between now and the time he wrote his last albums, he said.

“I think it’s again the issue of the haves and the have-nots,” he said.

He’ll be in Australia after the US election result is known. He’s voting for Hillary Clinton.

“I think we need a real change. And a woman president is a great idea, it will open up some new avenues for everyone,” he said.

Other things have changed since he began. Getting started in music is easier and there’s greater contact with audiences today, he says. 

“It depends if you’re a writer or if you’re a musician, it depends what you do with it.

“You have you have your wits about yourself, you know. I’m no example of knowing a lot about the music business but I do know that it’s a big market now.”

Rodriguez will play at the Derwent Entertainment Centre, Glenorchy on November 21 with special guest Archie Roach. 

Tickets are still available.

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