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Why did the wildly popular 1970s folk singer Sixto Rodríguez suddenly disappear into obscurity?

Searching for Sugar Man

Available from May 21 to June 19, 2013, at Super Channel On Demand.

Picture this: you’re a mysterious Detroit-based musician in the late 1960s and early 1970s. People compare you to the likes of Bob Dylan. Despite the hype, your albums fail to sell in America and you’re dropped from your label, forcing you into an obscure life as a manual labour contractor.

For nearly three decades you skirt the edges of poverty. You’re rumoured to have committed suicide. But unbeknownst to you – and half the world away – you’re a musical hero, selling hundreds of thousands of records in South Africa. Legend would have it that you’re even bigger than Elvis.

Sound far-fetched? Not so much. This is the storied life of Sixto Rodríguez. The humble Mexican-American songwriter is the subject of Searching for Sugar Man, a gritty-yet-charming Academy Award-winning documentary by Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul.

The film, which combines archival and interview footage with gorgeous stylized segments, follows two South African fans in the late 1990s as they fervently track down their idol. Using lyrics and album liner notes to piece together the puzzle, the pair eventually get a break when Rodriguez’s daughter learns of their efforts and puts them in touch with her father.

His only two studio releases, 1970’s Cold Fact and 1971’s Coming from Reality, were as cherished as The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water to a generation of anti-Apartheid South Africans. And when Rodriguez finally arrives in Africa to play a series of sold-out concerts, the thousands in attendance would confirm this to be true.

Looking for Sugar Man won the Special Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance, and an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

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