Who denied the iconic singer and songwriter Rodriguez the thousand of rands in royalties to his music in South Africa is a question in the mouths of thousands of his fans.
The South African Music Rights Organisation (Samro), which collects broadcasting royalties, said on Friday: “Samro is not at liberty to discuss members’ details, including royalty payments, with third parties.”
For more than 20 years, Rodriguez led a tough life, working as labourer when he could have led a lavish style with his money from South Africa.
Rodriguez, the star of the award winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, begins a sold-out multi-concert tour of South Africa on Sunday, February 9.
It is not clear whether Rodriguez or “Sugar Man”, as he is sometimes known, will pursue the matter of his royalties.
When asked by Time magazine in January why he did not get his royalties even though his records went platinum in South Africa in the ’70s, Rodriguez said he thought that would happen down the road.
“I don’t have the wherewithal at this point to look into it, but I would go to (record company executives) with a legal team now. I would go with an international lawyer and one that knows how to do the courts. It’s kind of involved, you know?”
CBS News in the US called him the icon who didn’t know it. It said, like so many musicians before him, the singer songwriter came from nowhere.
“He was born poor in Detroit, spent his life poor in Detroit. In the late 60s, he cut a couple of records. They got great reviews but went nowhere. What he didn’t know, what no one in America knew, was that half way around the world in South Africa, he was more popular than Elvis or the Beatles. He’d never been there. No one knew anything about him. Even when word spread that he had died, his records continued to sell,” the TV channel commented.
Asked by Time why he thought he was so popular in South Africa, Rodriguez said: “They had conscription there, and here in the States the youngbloods were burning their draft cards, going to Canada, so the same kind of social pressures and government repression.”
The music documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, directed by Swedish film maker Malik Bendjelloul follows two of Rodriguez’s fans from Cape Town in discovering the story behind his extraordinary fame in the ’70s South Africa and his disappearance from the music scene.
Rodriguez recorded two albums with Sussex Records in the US: Cold Fact in 1970 and Coming from Reality in 1971.
But after mixed reviews and low album sales, he was dropped from the label, which folded in 1975.
After failing to make an impact in the US, he gave up his career as a musician.
A bootleg copy of Rodriguez’s album, Cold Fact, made its way into South Africa in the early ’70s and became an instant success with mainly white people opposed to apartheid or conscription.
In 1971, the album was released in South Africa by A&M Records. In April 1991,it was re-issued by Real Trutone.
It was a psychedelic masterpiece that went platinum and achieved a cult status.
The Okayafrica website recalls: “The album was celebrated by a politically and culturally stifled public but severely censured by the apartheid regime. Any copies of the record meant for promotional use were subject to physical damage, rendering a selection of songs unplayable on the radio. Still, Rodriguez’s Cold Fact found its way into thousands of South African homes and record stores.”
It continues: “While the album celebrated a matter-of-fact political cynicism not unprecedented in the US, its blatant critique of politics and a general delight in hippy culture marked it as legitimate protest music in South Africa.
“Despite reflecting a decaying American city, songs like The Establishment Blues and I Wonder became anthemic protests against apartheid and cultural conservatism for many South Africans. And while Cold Fact rivalled the popularity of American pop hits in South Africa, its listeners there (South Africa) knew virtually nothing of the artist behind it.”