Thinking about successful attempts by human beings that may influence or change the lives of others for the better, there is no secret recipe. The key is to love what you do and just do it. Because if you love it somebody else may love it as well, and why not, get inspired by it.
The documentary Searching for Sugarman by Malik Bendjelloul is a great example of such a story.
The story of Sixto Rodriguez, a US born Mexican folk musician who lived in obscurity for many years. Very talented, indeed comparable to Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens, he wrote and sang songs inspired by real stories based on human problems. All of this was accompanied by great melodies although he did not manage to make it in the American music business. But one day it all changed.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Rodriguez became an inspiration for thousands of South Africans, in a country which at the time was under Apartheid regime. Through his music, he managed to sell more records than Elvis Presley at that same time. How did this come about? Let’s look at the story from the beginning and try to understand how things evolved.
Sixto Rodriguez was born in 1941 in Detroit, USA, and his father had migrated from Mexico in the 1920s. His life in the US was not comfortable or rich, something which is reflected in many of his songs which are based on the difficulties that poor people may face in cities.
Rodriguez studied philosophy before getting involved in music. In the late 1960s he wrote his first songs and studio albums “Cold Fact” and “Coming from Reality“. These did not sell in the US, so after that, Rodriguez stopped making music for about a decade. Instead he worked in the construction industry as a worker and was simultaneously actively involved in improving working- class’ conditions in the community of Detroit.
While Rodriguez’ life went on that way, his songs became famous in South Africa; at the time the country was under a political regime that enforced racial segregation where the rights of the black inhabitants and other ethnic groups were suppressed. Rodriguez’s music became an inspiration for thousands of people living in this hardship and racism. His music has been referred to as “the soundtrack” to their lives. So, Rodriguez became a myth. A false rumor was circulated saying that Rodriguez had committed suicide in the 1970’s. A music journalist in South Africa decided to look into that and revealed the truth: Rodriguez was alive and kicking in the US, living with his family.
Much to his surprise, in the 90s Rodriguez found out that he was famous and popular in Africa, and decided to go there on a tour. The response was incredible. Songs like “I Wonder” were given a standing ovation during these concerts. This song, which is included in the documentary “Searching for Sugarman” became an inspiration for the Anti- Apartheid movement.
It may touch every person’s soul, let alone people who have faced racial discrimination and have had to fight for essential things in life. Furthermore, its simple yet touchy lyrics refer to human emotions such as love and hate, and about controversial issues such as war. The singer expresses his concern about all these negative aspects of life and wonders whether they are ever going to come to an end.
Rodriguez also became famous in Australia and Zimbabwe. After all this, he started to gain recognition in his own country as well. Rodriguez is – according to his daughter- a man “rich in a lot of things, not material. He had never expected such success in his career; it is obvious, however, that loving what you do especially when this has a positive social impact, may explain such success in the long run.
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
I wonder about the love you can’t find
And I wonder about the loneliness that’s mine
I wonder how much going have you got
And I wonder about your friends that are not
I wonder I wonder, I wonder I do
I wonder about the tears in children’s eyes
And I wonder about the soldier that dies
I wonder will this hatred ever end
I wonder and worry my friend
I wonder I wonder wonder don’t you?
I wonder how many times you been had
And I wonder how many dreams have gone bad
I wonder how many times you’ve had sex
And I wonder do you know who’ll be next
I wonder I wonder, wonder I do