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Searching for Sugar Man

By Clem Sunter

Take a trip to a movie called Searching for Sugar Man because it will give you an all-time high, particularly if you like me are a vinyl junkie (a collector of those prehistoric things called long playing records).

The film is about a singer named Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, whose parents immigrated from Mexico to America. Born in 1942, he made two records – Cold Fact in 1970 and Coming from Reality in 1971. Neither record did particularly well in the US and he basically disappeared from the public eye soon after their release.

However, in South Africa he sold half a million records which put him ahead of virtually any artist on the planet. He was also popular in Australia and New Zealand. With rumours of his death circulating, two South Africans set out to uncover the mystery of his disappearance. One was a fan called Stephen "Sugar" Segerman and the other was a journalist called Craig Bartholomew Strydom. They even set up a website called The Great Rodrigues Hunt.

The film is about the surprising twists and turns that take place in the search for the singer in America, centred on Detroit in Michigan. I cannot possibly reveal the outcome (and I hope nobody does in the comments section) because I had never heard of Rodrigues and it has to be one of the best plots I have ever come across – and I have seen a lot of movies in my life. In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis called the film "a hugely appealing documentary about fans, faith and an enigmatic Age of Aquarius musician who burned bright and hopeful before disappearing."

Produced in a joint venture between the Swedish and British film industries, the movie premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in the US, winning its Swedish Director Malik Bendjelloul the Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award for best international documentary. It has also won awards at festivals in Los Angeles, Durban, Melbourne and Moscow.

After the movie, I immediately bought the two CD compilation at the record shop in the Zone in Rosebank. It is amazing. The guy sounds like a cross between Bob Dylan and Donovan and his songs about inner city life, especially what it is like to be poor, have an enduring quality. No wonder people in faraway countries went crazy about him just as the French went crazy for Johnny Clegg.

Last night, I was walking back to my hotel along the beachfront in Port Elizabeth. Passing a restaurant, I heard one of his songs being played to the clientele. It is called "I Wonder" and the first verse came loud and clear through the windows (I kid you not):

I wonder how many times you’ve been had
And I wonder how many plans have gone bad
I wonder how many times you had sex
I wonder do you know who’ll be next
I wonder I wonder wonder I do

As a scenario planner, I am constantly wondering about the future.

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