Rodríguez Riot!

I would fume when someone would ask if I had heard the new electro song ‘Sugar Man”, because I knew the original was a beautiful piece of art. Though, I had very little knowledge about the artist Sixto Rodriguez until my recent experience of the Malik Bendjelloul‘s documentary ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ (2012). After the singer/songwriter’s debut album drop in the early 1970’s, it soon became what was seen as a dud in the music industry. Rodriguez who was humbly situated in Detroit was oblivious about his career boom in South Africa during the time of apartheid which he was an iconic influence during the movement for the nation.

I was instantly intrigued after viewing this film; being informed of an artist I adored but knew nothing about, however, after delving further within this case I discovered multiple views of ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ which came off as an inspirational story. Michael Titlestad’s article paints another picture of Rodriguez’s movement and tour within the South African nation, though having a strong opinion against Sixto’s influence on the people which I believe are valid, I strongly disagree and find it baffling that Titlestad sees himself as a music critic in his work sledging the frail artist’s performance. “The Big Top Arena at Carnival City was the perfect venue for Rodriguez that night. He made a fool of himself.” (Titlestad, 2013)

As I did find Rodriguez’s story truly amazing, I do agree with Titlestad in believing that the story as some times did come off as a set up and believably was a “narrative scam” (Titlestad, 2013), suggesting that people’s political stance and human rights empowerment were not indicated by Rodriguez and his anti-establishment esque notions, his works were an element of this view but not necessarily the ring leader “Rodriguez fans were generally anti-establishment and opposed to apartheid is mere fabrication” (Titlestad, 2013). though Johnathan Hyslop largely agrees with Titlestad, acknowledging “as I watched Sugar Man, I knew that I was being manipulated.” (Hysplop, 2013) His work focuses immensely on the impact of American rock music in general, having an effect on white South African youth during apartheid as they undoubtedly had more power than the black revolt during this oppression.

After looking into Rodriguez’s journey I began thinking about contemporary music and it’s battle, politically. This led me to the band ‘Pussy Riot’, who are a Russian feminist punk rock protest band. Founded in 2011, the band’s purpose is to perform provocative guerrilla-like performances in peculiar destinations, sharing with the online world simultaneously. Their aim is to protest feminism, LGBT Rights, and ultimately an opposition to the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bikini Kill and the 1990s riot grrrl movement were catalysts for Pussy Riot in their fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin via public performance art. This makes sense aesthetically and politically in Russia, where feminist politics are scarce (Pelly, 2012)

Sixto Rodriguez was an inspirational man, musically and beyond that was seen as an icon in South Africa. Blurred lines are ever present in his involvement within the apartheid movement and I believe that it was a tame one that Sixto possessed, in no form intending to compel people to think a certain way. We are informed about the art of music and it’s influence on a community whereby seen it can be perceived politically as shown in the cases Sixto Rodriguez in South Africa and Pussy Riot in Russia.

References:

  • Hyslop, J (2013) “Days of Miracle and Wonder”? Conformity and Revolt in Searching for Sugar Man, Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, 14:4, 490-501, DOI: 10.1080/17533171.2013.841066 [date accessed: 03 Sept 2015]
  • Pelly, J 2012, ‘”We Are All Pussy Riot”: Kathleen Hanna Speaks on the Jailed Feminist Punk Group’, Pitchfork, [date accessed: 03 Sept 2015] < http://pitchfork.com/news/47516-interview-kathleen-hanna-on-pussy-riot/ >
  • Titlestad, M (2013) Searching for the Sugar-coated Man, Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, 14:4, 466-470, DOI: 10.1080/17533171.2013.841061 [date accessed: 03 Sept 2015]
  • StudioCanal UK, 2012, ‘Searching for Sugar Man – Official UK Trailer‘, YouTube, 22 June < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKXewWDh1og > [date accessed: 03 Sept 2015]
  •  Гараджа Матвеева, 2012, ‘Панк-молебен “Богородица, Путина прогони” Pussy Riot в Храме’, YouTube, 21 Feb, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCasuaAczKY > [date accessed: 03 Sept 2015]

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