The resurrection of Sixto Rodriguez

Craig Shaaban uncovers the underappreciated music of Sixto Rodriguez

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We live in a society that is surrounded by music. Like it or not, at some point today, I can almost guarantee you will encounter a song. Whether it’s serendipitous, or from your own actions, music will somehow find its way to you.

You may hear one while taking a short cut in town walking through a department store, you could be sitting at your barber shop, or maybe it could come from the girl with purple hair in front of you on the bus with her headphones on full blast.

The ease of access to music has never been greater. It’s difficult to remember a time when you’d have to ask your cool older cousin to burn the latest Eminem album onto a CD for you to play on your industrial sized Sony Walkman.

We know more about our favourite artists now than ever before. Sites such as Genius deconstruct song lyrics and give us a better understanding about the lyrical meaning.

As a society we are spoilt for musical content. There was a time where music had to be smuggled into countries under the radar of sectarian governments. This was a time where audiences had to cultivate their own opinions on lyrics from artists they knew very little about.

The story of one artist perfectly demonstrates the impact technology has had on us.

Sixto Rodriguez was born in 1942 in Detroit, Michigan. He was a musician who wrote about romance and politics in the disheveled inner city.

He was a shy man who played with his back to the audience in bars. He released two studio albums in the ’70s titled Cold Fact, and Coming from Reality.

The oppression he faced as a Mexican immigrant heavily influenced his song writing. His soft melodies and thought-provoking lyrics should have made him a star in the US, however, both his albums received underwhelming attention and Rodriguez was dropped.

He gave up his passion for music and worked as a demolition man, to help to raise his family.

Turn to apartheid South Africa in 1971. An American woman brings a copy of Cold Fact to the country while vising her boyfriend. Hype around the album started to propagate among minorities who faced a racist government.

Television was banned, and the media was strictly censored. Once people started to hear his lyrics about sex, drugs and anti-establishment views, his fame exploded across the country.

Fans wanted to know more about this anomalous man. Rumours began circulating the he died by suicide on stage by setting himself on fire.

There was no Spotify or YouTube to explore the artist. This was all unbeknownst to Rodriguez who continued to live a humble life. In South Africa, he was bigger than Elvis, he just had no idea.

In 1998, almost 30 years after he first released Cold Fact, his daughter found a website dedicated to her father. She would find out that her humble dad had sold millions of copies and gained an iconic status among South-Africans.

A concert was eventually organised in Cape Town where Rodriguez would receive a 10-minute standing ovation from the crowd, who believed he was a dead man before the show started.

He would play six further shows before returning to his simple life as a construction worker.

There is no doubt that his music is truly inspirational. Songs such as, I Think of You, Cause, Crucify Your Mind, and I’ll Slip Away are all masterpieces.

He should have been as big as Bob Dylan, but the colour of his skin seems to have gotten in the way of achieving such fame.

 

Craig Shaaban 

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