South African podcast stirs Rodriguez controversy


Shocking distortions in award-winning documentary “Searching For Sugar Man” exposed

Searching For Sugar Man, the Oscar-winning documentary directed by Malik Bendjelloul “distorts facts and fabricates events” according to the well-known podcast series about South African music, “Tune Me What?”

In a controversial episode of the show, hosts Brett Lock and Leon Lazarus welcomed guest Professor Michael Drewett of Rhodes University in Grahamstown for a discussion about how the scripted narrative of the movie has distorted South African musical history at the expense of South African artists.

Professor Drewett is an international expert on censorship in music and a keen historian of South African alternative and protest music during the anti-apartheid struggle.

While making a point of stressing that Rodriguez – famous for such songs as ‘Sugar Man’ and ‘I Wonder’ – never made the claim himself, Prof Drewett noted that contrary to the films claims, Rodriguez was never banned in South Africa and certainly was not a leading anti-apartheid voice in music. In fact, some scenes in the movie were faked.

“The decision to discuss the fictional narrative in the movie was taken because we felt many aspects of it were creeping into historical records as fact,” said co-presenter Brett Lock. “For example, the wikipedia entry for the film claims that Rodriguez was a banned artist and that ‘harsh censorship’ made it impossible for South Africans to find out about him, while his own wikipedia entry claims that some of his songs served as anti-Apartheid anthems. None of this is true, and yet through repetition it is increasingly regarded as fact!”

Leon Lazarus noted that one of the effects of these myths is to “rob those South African musicians who made a real commitment to democratic change and opposition to apartheid of their rightful place.. and hand the mantle, undeservedly, to Rodriguez.”

Opinion on the show’s Facebook page was passionately divided between fans of Rodriguez and those who shared the view that Searching For Sugar Man did a disservice to the truth about the real musical heroes of the alternative scene in the 1970s and 80s such as Juluka, Roger Lucey, David Kramer, National Wake, the Asylum Kids, Mzwakhe Mbuli, Jennifer Ferguson, Kalahari Surfers, and others, all of whom are featured in the 90 minute show.

Ironically, the podcast was started 4 years ago after the presenters noticed people entranced by ‘unique’ story of a singer who was “huge in South Africa” but virtually unknown anywhere else. “We knew that this seemingly remarkable story was far from unique: It was the story of thousands of South African musicians – legends in their own country, but unknown to the world,” they said.

Their efforts in spreading the word about South African music to an international audience were rewarded when Esquire Magazine listed “Tune Me What?” as an “essential podcast”.

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