I saw a segment on 60 Minutes the other day about an Oscar nominated documentary of a Mexican-American musician in Detroit who had struggled all his life in establishing his music career in America, only to find out that he is in fact a music icon, bigger than The Beatles, half way across the world in South Africa. The musician’s name is Rodriguez and the documentary is called “Searching for Sugar Man” (Sugar Man is the name of one of his songs). The director of this film is a young, down-to-earth Swede, Malik Bendjelloul.
The story of Rodriguez is inspiring in so many fronts. He lived almost all of his life in poverty, working in laborious jobs, yet continued his passion for music throughout his life. His dedication to his art was obviously not in search of riches, but like any artist, he craved for an audience—someone to appreciate the lyrics he has written in his songs, someone to hum along to the tunes he has created. This recognition was never recieved in his homeland, where his records were huge disappointments. Unknowingly, however, his music was an enormous hit in South Africa. A generation of South Africans grew up to his music and all awhile, Rodriguez was unaware of this; until finally - when a ridiculous rumor spread in South Africa that Rodriguez had died burning himself live in a concert - some South African fans took it upon themselves to investigate the truth which brought them to Detroit, where they met the man himself and then revealed to him his celebrity status in South Africa. Still, he remained unknown in America until finally the release of the documentary when at the time, he was at the ripe old age of 70.Amidst this fascinating story of Rodriguez, is the story of the director of the documentary and his travails in making this documentary. Bendjelloul was searching for a story to make a film on and came across Rodriquez’s story which was too perfect to pass up. He spent four years of his young life making this documentary and in the words of 60 Minutes, “while making a documentary of a poor man, he himself became a poor man”. He had spent all his money working on his project and desperately needed to find a job to support himself. Consequently, he did not finish his project and had to delay it for some time before finally completing it.
In this day and age, when the only objective to making music or films are for a quick profit, and when anyone on the streets call themselves an artist, Rodriguez’s and Bendjelloul’s stories put those people in shame. Their dedication to their craft stems from their passion for their art, creating something that is special and unique in this world; and to this spirit and dedication, we must applaud. Their stories remind us that true artists are not in search of fame and fortune.
Vincent Van Gogh did not receive much accolade until after his death—it is nice to see that Rodriguez and Bendjelloul’s talents and perseverance did not come unnoticed.