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Imagine you are a singer and a songwriter who has released two albums; both received excellent reviews comparing you favorably to Bob Dylan and other major stars of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but as the owner of the record label says, “They only sold six copies.” The recording of a third album ends because no one bought your albums.
You go back to Detroit and work in an auto plant. When that job ends, you start doing manual labor -- construction, demolition, scraping old paint from walls, hauling refrigerators on your back downstairs and to the rubbish heap. You get involved in local politics and run for city council a number of times but never win.
You bring your three daughters to libraries, museums, cultural centers and concerts to ensure they do not suffer from growing up in a poor section of a dying city known in the 1970s and 1980s as “Kill City” where it is unsafe to walk the mean streets. Despite a university education and a hard life, you are not angry or bitter or unhappy: You accepted the cards that life dealt you, and you do not complain.
Then, 30 years after the release of your first album in 1968, purely by chance, your eldest daughter stumbles across a website where she finds an incredible, incomprehensible, absolutely mind-blowing story that beggars belief, and she gives you the number of the man who runs that website. You call him at 1 a.m. He tells you that for all those years when you thought no one had bought your albums that in fact you had been a superstar in South Africa -- a symbol for white and Afrikaner youth during apartheid; your albums had sold millions of records, but everyone thought you were dead, with wild, crazy stories about you blowing your brains out on stage or dowsing yourself with gas and then setting yourself ablaze. In South Africa, you are bigger than Elvis Presley, bigger than the Rolling Stones, and you -- Sixto Rodriguez -- are beloved.
In that year -- 1998 -- Rodriguez takes his daughters to South Africa and they are picked up at the airport in limos (His daughters thinking they are being mistaken for someone else). He plays a bunch of sellout concerts in large venues to adoring fans that find it hard to believe Rodriguez is alive and is there to sing for them.
In the following years, he returns, plays sold-out concerts in South Africa, gives away all the money he makes to family and friends and then goes back to manual labor.
His story is told in the Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” showing April 6 at 9:30 p.m. at the Beyoglu Cinema in this year's Istanbul International Film Festival.