On the heels of an Oscar win for the documentary about his career, folk musician Rodriguez will bring his long lost music to life at the Frank Erwin Center, Saturday, May 4! This once obscure singer-songwriter has recently seen a rebirth in America thanks to the popularity of the film “Searching for Sugarman,” which won Best Documentary Feature last month at the Academy Awards. Now that his catalog has been introduced to a new generation of folk music lovers, Rodriguez is back on tour and will be making a stop here in Austin!
If the DNA of Bob Dylan and Donovan had been combined in 1970, the result might have been Rodriguez. Comprised of a familiar, folky melodic sound married with a rocking screed against the social injustices and political inequalities of the big city, Rodriguez’s music is simultaneously of its era yet also timeless. A Detroit native, Rodriguez composed tunes that told the truth about the streets as he saw it from his own life experiences. Rodriguez’s powerful lyrics and smooth voice made the social unrest he sang about go down easy, and his 1970 debut album “Cold Fact” was expected to be a hit in no time. Instead it went nowhere.
Except that it did go somewhere, just not in the U.S. In 1971, Rodriguez produced a second album “Coming From Reality,” and was in the process of recording his third, when abysmal sales prompted the record label to drop him. After losing his record contract Rodriguez gave up singing and returned to manual labor and near poverty, completely unaware of his popularity elsewhere in the world. Meanwhile, sometime during the 1970s his first record made its way to the volatile country of South Africa. His lyrics spoke to those struggling against the oppression of apartheid. Thanks to an underground surge of popularity from the singer of politically charged anthems, Rodriguez became a phenomenon halfway across the world.
In the 1970s, Detroit’s population was about 1.5 million people, yet Rodriguez was roundly ignored by the record-buying public in his own backyard. In South Africa, however, the singer was beloved and revered in a country of more than 50 million. But with little personal information made available from his albums, nobody was sure who Rodriguez really was, or if he was still alive. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Rodriguez’s records circulated for years and eventually sold thousands of copies in South Africa. The country’s youth had adopted his songs against political and social unrest as their own.
Spurred by a lack of real evidence and lots of rumors about horrific stage death scenarios, a handful of devout fans in South Africa began to hunt for the truth about the infamous musician who was so celebrated. The truth about Rodriguez turned out to be stranger than fiction as they discovered the man they assumed to be dead, was alive and well in Detroit. So began the process of Rodriguez returning to the music business, which brings him to Austin and the Frank Erwin Center next month. Don’t miss this opportunity to see the man in person, sharing his songs in a voice that is as clear and strong as when he first recorded them over 40 years ago!
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