When free-thinking individuals speak out about the injustices that they are noticing in their society, others who also see the injustices begin to band together in protest. The different ways that these protests originate vary across cultures and the string of events surrounding the highlighted issue. Song and music can be a very powerful force in supporting change. The documentary Searching for Sugar Man, describes the interesting story behind Rodriguez and how he influenced the apartheid protests of South Africa.
Apartheid, which literally means “aparthood”, had been a legally established practice of social segregation and control in South Africa by the Afrikaner National Party in 1948. The Population Registration Act of 1950 required that each resident be categorized by the color of their skin; either white, black or colored. The Act even went so far as to say that the speech and behavior of the citizen were also taken into consideration when determining their race; for example, if an individual looked white, but spoke “like a black person” that individual would not be considered white. A white person, by these standards had to come from two white parents and have the demeanor of a white person. Historically, South Africa’s oppressive state had worsened since the English invasion and colonization resulting from the Boer Wars near the end of the 19th Century. (source: http://www-cs-students.stanford.edu/~cale/cs201/apartheid.hist.html)
In the documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, we learn that the sounds of protest harmonized with the tunes of a man named Rodriguez. As the story goes, Sixto Rodriguez began as a young musician at local bars in Detroit, Michigan. He had recorded two albums with Sussex records at the start of the 70s, but by 1975 he was dropped from the label due to extremely poor album sales. His songs mainly involved “anti-establishment” themes which were new concepts to the South Africans who had encountered these records around that time. The CD versions of his two albums were released in Africa in early 1990. These spread like wildfire! South African fans began to question who this man, a catalyst for positive social change, was and what had become of him. Rumors spread that he had committed suicide, and in an attempt to find the answer, several fans started heavily researching and reaching out to anyone who might have had information regarding Rodriguez. When Rodriguez’ daughter, Regan, came across a website inquiring about her father, she commented on the page. The story began to unfold as the real Rodriguez came to light. He played a tour in South Africa of six concerts in 1998! The empowering messages for the troubled and poor inner city residents had been heard and internalized by the oppressed South Africans. Days of conforming were passing as protests were arising and tolerance for segregation was diminishing. (source: http://www.rodriguez-music.com/about/)
Rodriguez’ albums which started it all can be seen below:
About a year ago, The Rolling Stone wrote a piece about Rodriguez which gives us a little more insight into his life after the documentary. Rodriguez is still a simple man with a genuinely caring disposition. I recommend that you take the time to view this documentary. It is amazing how the voice of one man in Detroit can help to empower the actions of many oppressed people in South Africa. You can visit his website to learn more about this influential man.