By Vince Pienaar

LOVED AND LOST: Sixto Diaz Rodriguez: (July 10, 1942 – August 8, 2023)

Why did Sixto Rodriguez have such a profound effect on so many young South Africans?

It is not as if he wrote and sang wildly revolutionary songs – we had Die Gereformeerde Blues Band who thumbed their noses at the authorities around the country to do that for us – but he touched a chord.

Seeing the Cold Fact album with its weird cover showing a picture of a man with a hat and dark glasses sitting cross-legged inside a coloured ball, it was like looking at an incredibly precious, somehow scary, object.

Listening to the album was like experiencing something mystical – something other-worldly.

“Sugar Man, won’t you hurry? Cause I’m tired of these scenes.”

The voice comes through the two stereo speakers of a home system, which are less than half the strength of the average sound system on a modern Golf GTi.

But it’s spellbinding. 

The voice, blues-based if a label is required, is no more than ordinary in range but huge in depth. It instantly speaks of a life less than easy. Deep down hard.

And what does it mean? 
Sugar man, you’re the answer
That makes my questions disappear
Sugar man cause I’m weary
Of those double games I hear
What is he talking about?
Silver magic ships you carry
Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane.

Was the song really about searching for a drug dealer, and were jumpers, coke and sweet Mary Jane really slang references to drugs? 

The album Cold Fact came out in 1970, and to say that it tanked in the USA is an understatement. It sank deeper than the Titanic. But then there was some serious competition. 

Janis Joplin was top of her game, singing “Piece of My Heart” all over the States. The Woodstock album had just been released, leaving room for almost nothing else. Jimi Hendrix would soon usurp Eric Clapton’s hallowed if irreverent title of “God” in England. 

And, let’s face it, Cold Fact wasn’t really much more than ordinary. Except in South Africa and Australia. Here the album, suffering and flourishing under the dubious label of achieving “cult status”, was at every single party in Hillbrow, where it was somehow always on the top of the heap of LPs lying next to the record player. 

The SABC in its wisdom had demanded that the “Sugar Man” track be scratched out (literally) and having a copy with that track intact was worth more than gold.

The movie, Searching for Sugar Man, has many moments that bring tears to the eyes. The South African concert featuring a man looking substantially older than his years, performing somehow with a sense of amazement, will do that for you. 

More than that, though, in is that scene in the movie when he seems amazed when his South African pursuers finally locate him and tell him that they have come to fetch him to do a show in South Africa.

“Who, me?” the man who makes a living working with his hands on a construction site seems to say. 

If you haven’t yet, watch the movie, okay? But bring tissues. Come to think of it, if you’ve seen it already, now’s the right time to watch it again. And don’t forget the tissues.

Cheers, Mister Sixto Diaz Rodriguez. You did really good, Sugar Man.

Pictured above: Sixto Diaz Rodriguez

Image source: Twitter


Recent articles