‘Searching for Sugarman’: 1998 review of Rodriguez first ever performance in South Africa

Searching for Sugarman“? Yes, I was there. After repeated requests, here’s my ancient review of Sixto Rodriguez and his first ever concert in South Africa: way back in 1998 – as chronicled in the BAFTA and Oscar-winning documentary about the search by Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew-Strydom for the mythical “Cold Fact” troubadour. Please forgive the inevitable dryness that main body newspapers of the day demanded of their music writers. Also, if you will, please imagine the moment with the Rodriguez’s”picture”, back in 1998 – how different that would be on a concert stage now. Read on, and climb on up on his music…

Rodriguez live in Cape Town 1998-03-08 - Sunday Argus

Rodriguez live in Cape Town. 1998-03-08 – Sunday Argus

“Sugar Man” Rodriguez sings it to adoring crowd (live at the Belville Velodrome, Cape Town, South Africa on Friday 6 March 1998)

This review by Evan Milton first appeared  in the Sunday Argus on 1998-03-08.
70s (and 80s and, it seems, 90s) folk-rock “icon” Sixto Rodriguez played his first South African performance live at the Bellville Velodrome on Friday, 6 March 1998.
 Evan Milton was there.
“He’s really alive!” were the words on more than one nostalgic fan’s lips as a crowd of over 2 000 listened to Rodriguez’s first ever live performance in South Africa – and his first appearance on stage in 18 years. The “Sugar Man” enthralled from the first, instantly recognisable, notes of “I Wonder” through to the much requested and long-awaited “The Establishment Blues”.

South African Music Association (SAMA) “Best Album” winners Big Sky ably supported the visitor, with Willem Möller’s electric guitar providing a focus during the simpler musical songs, and Russel Taylor’s hammond and Graeme Currie’s bass underpinning the set. Rodriguez was visibly moved by the audience’s enthusiastic response, chanting his name between every song, and with a round of applause and calls of “Rodriguez we love you” following each song.
The Mexican American revealed a refreshingly contrasting “superstar attitude” to other recent international visitors, repeatedly bowing and thanking both band and audience. At one point the singer called for silence, in his unmistakable voice said, “A picture” and stepped back, miming the action of taking a huge snapshot of his fans. Ranging in age from 16 to 50-plus, those fans sang along to most tunes, with nostalgia and youthful idealism in equal measure as the older remembered their upstart 70s youth and the younger drew on the libertarian lyrics and social commentary as idealistic focus inspiration.

Finishing the one-and-a-half hour set, Rodriguez was briefly visible on a parapet leading to the dressing rooms, and waved a final farewell to the ecstatic crowd. After the concert, he shook hands with, and personally thanked the hundred-or-so VIP guests, eagerly and animatedly signing autographs, engaging with stories of when and where people had listened to his albums and impressing everyone with his warmth and sincerity. Many left the concert with plans to purchase a second ticket for Saturday night’s performance.
This review by Evan Milton first appeared  in the Sunday Argus on 1998-03-08.


Postscript: R.I.P. “Searching for Sugarman” director, Malik Bendjelloul, a sad loss.


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