I am preaching a Tom Payne sermon tonight from our January conference. The sermon is about the admonition to the Philadelphia church to not lose their crown. The illustration he used to set up the homecoming we have prepared for us when our duty down here is done was an illustration about a musician, Sixto Rodriguez.
Rodriguez (that is what you would have to type into Pandora to hear his music) was a product of the cultural revolution of the 60’s out of Detroit. He would eventually record two albums after being found singing in a tavern with his back to the crowd. His music has that Dylan quality that I really appreciate. The recordings took full advantage of orchestrated music to accompany his singing and guitar playing. There is definitely a hard coreness to the lyrics. Nothing mystical, more like a punch in the face. Americas didn’t respond well to that punch in the face and didn’t buy his records.
One of his records made its way to trade sanctioned South Africa. He recorded in the early 70’s. This was the time of Apartheid. In a nation without access to TV, cut off from the world and heavy-handedness from the government on any voice of dissent; Rodriguez’s sound found a way into the worldwide youth movement in South Africa. Copies were made, his lyrics became the voice of the anti-establishment white children of Apartheid. Eventually three South African companies would make recordings of his albums and although the radio stations were not allowed to play them they sold over 500,000 copies in South Africa on top of the thriving bootleg market.
Rodriguez would not get the chance to record a third album. He went back to his working man roots working in demolition and cleanup in the city of Detroit. Meanwhile in South Africa, among the young, he was a hero with every record collector having his records and everyone knowing the lyrics, they were revolutionary in revolutionary times. Because South Africa was cut off from the rest of the world, they just assumed that he was as big a star in America as he was in South Africa. Apartheid would fall and another company would release a CD of his work in South Africa. The musician who was asked write the blurb, talked of the mystery of Sixto Rodriguez. In South Africa the stories of his suicide on stage were legendary in rainbow colors. He asked for any musical detectives to lend a hand in completing the story of Sixto Rodriguez.
As you have already guessed they found him, he was alive and working in Detroit. So here is the part that tied into the sermon. They brought him back to South Africa for 6 concerts with a nation of writers even doubting if this was real or some publicity stunt. To get a better feel of the emotion that went into the concerts I would recommend seeing “Searching for Sugarman” on Amazon. It is a great story. The film came out in 2012 and he had returned to South Africa in 1998. I wonder if any of our Zambian friends were aware of the going ons.
He has done over 50 concerts there, he still works his job in Detroit, but then goes and be’s the philosopher poet to the nation of South Africa. I hope he can get in touch with the real message of revolution that is needed in the world we live in.