While Bob Dylan was successfully selling his records and poetry books, and The Rolling Stones were shaking their heads in front of thousands of fans, revolutionary songs were being sung in the bars and clubs. These were hopeful tunes about social commentary within the American underground scene.
The lack of support and the poor distribution of his records prevented Sixto Rodriguez from getting the recognition he deserved. This Mexican-American musician would make his living singing outside of bars, aside from his regular jobs as a builder, carpenter, and other domestic jobs.
Jesús Rodríguez —as he was called sometimes— had a tough life. When he was pursuing success, he made two studio albums. The first one, "Cold Fact" (1970), was a complete failure in the United States due to the poor distribution and promotion of the record company he signed with. The fame and success he generated in other countries was nonexistent in his native country. However, places like South Africa became his main consumers and fans. During the seventies his music was seen as an inspiration as well as the voice of many South-African young people who used Rodriguez' songs as flags for social revolution. He never knew his music was being used as motivation to protest on the other side of the world, where he became more famous than Elvis or Dylan. His second album, called Coming From Reality (1971), would end his musical career.
The mystery around Rodriguez' personality inspired Swedish director, Malik Bendjelloul, to create the highly acclaimed documentary Searching for Sugar Man (2012). It narrates Sixto's life before and after his music transcended to another continent without his knowledge. The documentary won several awards, including the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. It was because of this film that people had the opportunity to discover the artist that remained in the shadows for so many years. After his 1998 presentations in South Africa, Sixto returned to a quiet life among his friends and family.
Nowadays, he offers shows and has been invited to perform on live television. But the question still remains: if his music was so great, how come he didn't become a hit? Who's the person behind such a talented artist? Sixto Rodríguez will always be a mysterious character whose two albums were re-edited in 2012 by Light in the Attic Records. His music is now available so that anybody can appreciate the musical legacy of a man who conquered a whole continent with his unique psychedelia and social critical lyrics.
If you want to check how great his music, poetry, and folklore were, here are 12 of his songs you must listen to to know the enigmatic Sixto Rodríguez:
6. "Like Janis"
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Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards