Session 3

Detroit musician Sixto Rodriguez's life is full of 'what ifs'. If his two albums had been successful, he could have been as big as Bob Dylan. Instead, he was forgotten for many years, and if fans on the other side of the world hadn't rediscovered him, we would have never heard of him. Learn about this artist's story and his life of conditionals...

ఈ పాఠ్యాంశం లోని సెషన్స్

Session 3 score

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    Activity 1

Activity 1

The music icon that never was


Fame didn't quite come to singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez in the 1970s, but he got a second chance to make it in the 1990s almost by chance. How did it happen?

To do

Read this article quite quickly the first time and try to answer this question: why did South African fans think Sixto was dead? The answer is at the bottom of the article.

పాఠాన్ని చదివి పనిని పూర్తి చేయండి

Part 1
What were Sixto Rodriguez's chances of success? "He's got it," said a music producer who spotted his talent. But Sixto's start in life wasn't very promising. He was the seventh child of a Mexican-American family who came to the US to work in the industrial city of Detroit. His tough life may have helped him in another way, though: if Sixto hadn't been exposed to working-class life and poverty, would he have written such compelling lyrics? He was playing in a bar in the late 1960s when a couple of producers thought they had found the next Bob Dylan - the rebellious, iconic musician. They made Sixto into a recording artist.

Part 2
Two albums – Cold Fact and Coming to Reality – were released and Sixto was widely praised. If the records had sold lots of copies, he would have been be on track for a great career. But they didn't and the music label dropped the artist. His third album was never released. Mike Theodore, who co-produced his first album, admits he is haunted to this day by the failure: "Rodriguez at that time had all the machinery in place - big names, big money behind it. Circumstances were right, why didn't it make it? Did he get enough promotion? Did he do enough performances? Was he too political? Was there this, was there that…? On and on you can go but at the end of the day if you listen to his stuff now you say: I don't understand, and he's right on." In the end, it wasn't meant to be. Sixto took up construction work to pay the bills. For him, that was it. But was it?

Part 3
It would have been curtains for the musician's career if a copy of Cold Fact hadn't found its way to apartheid South Africa. Bootleg copies became a kind of soundtrack to youth protests against segregation. Rodriguez fan Craig Bartholomew-Strydom says: "Any revolution needs an anthem and in South Africa Cold Fact was the album that gave people permission to free their minds and start thinking differently." He and his friend Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman went on a quest to find out more about this mysterious musician that American magazines didn't talk about. There were rumours that Sixto had killed himself on stage.

Part 4
Bartholomew-Strydom was also a journalist, and followed the money trail to find out who was getting the royalties from Sixto's songs. He uncovered the artist's story and wrote an article about him. This would have been the end of it if the article hadn't found its way to Sixto's eldest daughter in America. She got in touch with the South African fans, who brought the very surprised former musician, then in his 50s, to play six sold out concerts in the country in 1998. It would have been a good enough story of second chances if it stopped here. But, it got better. Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul decided to turn it into a documentary called Searching for Sugar Man. He said: "It's the best story I have ever heard in my life. It's a true Cinderella story. It's better than Cinderella because Cinderella didn't have as good a soundtrack."

Part 5
If Sixto's fairy godmothers were his South African fans, Bendjelloul's were his film world connections. He knew a few British producers, and later the Fahrenheit 9/11 director Michael Moore and Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin championed his project. It took the Swedish filmmaker five years to complete the documentary because of problems with funding. But his persistence paid off: Cinderella went to the ball and Bendjelloul went to the Oscars' ceremony in 2013 and left with an award of his own for Best Documentary Feature. And what happened to Sixto, you may ask? Now in his 70s, the musician lives in the same rundown house in Detroit. A simple man and a true poet, he seems content and plays down comparisons with Bob Dylan: "Well, I've only written 30 songs. Bob Dylan has written over 500. So he's the Shakespeare of rock and roll and certainly deserves that title."

Well, just 30 songs were enough to give Sixto Rodriguez a second bite of the cherry! This alone says a lot about his talent.

Answer to our question:

Sixto Rodriguez's South African fans thought he was dead because there were rumours he had killed himself on stage.

To do

Here are some more questions to check how much of the article you understood.

Sixto Rodriguez's story quiz

7 Questions

Choose the best answer to each question

Congratulations you completed the Quiz
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End of Session 3

Did you get most of them right? Well done!

In Session 4 we learn how to make polite requests. If you joined us there, that would be great!

Session Vocabulary

  • make it
    become successful

    showing signs of future success

    very interesting

    full of regret

    set of conditions

    the end

    the former system in which races were separated in South Africa

    describes illegally produced and sold copies

    long and difficult search

    stories people share which aren't based on strong evidence

    (here) payment for musicians whose songs are played

    sold out
    no more tickets available

    fairy godmothers
    female characters in fairy stories who have magical powers to help people


    paid off
    brought good results

    in poor condition

    plays down
    makes something seem less important

    a second bite of the cherry
    another chance to do something