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Dave Matthews pays homage to Rodriguez, performs Sugar Man in South Africa

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Like Steve Miller or Eric Clapton covering the works of Robert Johnson, Dave Matthews’ reverence in covering Rodriguez’s Sugar Man is undeniable and most certainly applaudable.

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In a recent concert in Cape Town, South Africa, Matthews strummed his way through an unrecognizable introduction to a song as the crowd patiently listened on. When the tune eventually found its bearings and Matthews uttered the words “Sugar Man”, the crowd erupted with approval as the established star was breathing life into a song that for decades was primarily known only to citizens of South Africa and Australia. When Matthews finally reached the chorus, the crowd boisterously joined in, singing along as if to pay homage to their beloved music icon Rodriguez.

A virtually unknown American singer-songwriter from the 1970’s, Rodriguez and his music helped to influence the dissidence and a consciousness within a population that eventually lead to an overthrow of Apartheid in South Africa.

Practically invisible to the music world, in South Africa Rodriguez was a prominent voice and music icon within a country that was struggling to overcome a dysfunctional political system.

According to South Africans, Rodriguez was more popular than the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley. Strangely enough, he was unaware of his fame in the southernmost country on the distant continent. Due to an ugly twist of fate, possibly facilitated from the unscrupulous practices not uncommon within the music industry, it was estimated that Rodriguez sold upwards of a half-million albums overseas, but would not discover his unrewarded success for decades. In fact, many of his South African fans had subscribed to the rumors that their revered icon was dead.

In the late 1990s, two South African music enthusiasts, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, set out to discover what really happened in the passing of their music folk hero, only to discover that the artist known as Rodriguez was still very much alive and living in Michigan. The subject of their quest became the focus of first-time Swedish film-maker Malik Bendjelloul, who landed an Academy Award in 2012 for his documentary Searching For Sugar Man.

In one of the most heartfelt, true-life Cinderella stories to grace the silver screen, Searching For Sugar Man also chronicles the struggles of Rodriguez, who eventually receives his deserved recognition later in life, and the struggles of Bendjelloul in getting his film Searching For Sugar Man completed and in front of audiences.

What could be a better addendum to an already delightful tale than to have Dave Matthews keeping the flicker of poetic justice alive with his terrific rendition of Sugar Man?

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