Vintage Diversity is a journalistic mixtape project which exposes the music and stories behind unheralded artists who were way cool, way before their time. Listen to exclusive mixes of these incredible artists by Mixologi resident DJ Mackswell, as our staff writers take you on a biographic journey back in time.
Trouble listening? Listen here: Vintage Diversity: Sixto Rodriguez
Music is the ultimate form of expression; it is a way for human beings to leave something behind that will go on long after our existence. Music is an audible signature that reveals more about the soul than any standard form of communication could ever express. Instruments speak melodic wordless languages, and vocalists transform their voices into sonorous tools carrying rhythmic vibrations that captivate the very essence of the human spirit. Not every musician is blessed with the talent to euphorically possess the minds of their listeners, hypnotize massive crowds into involuntary dancing, or inspire the participants of a movement, but the ones that are, even if they are relatively unknown, are eventually immortalized.
You’ve probably heard the story a million times, a story about someone that produced something amazing, but remained in obscurity and was never truly recognized for their achievements. The playground legend that may have been better than Jordan, the painter whose masterpieces never graced the floor of an art show, or the musician who produced albums that disappeared into a void only to be later recognized as classics; the latter tale belongs to man by the name of Sixto Rodriguez. His story may sound familiar, but only recently is his name starting to resonate within the minds of Americans.
Sixto Rodriguez is a musician whose sound falls somewhere in between the genres of soul and folk. In the early seventies, he released two albums, The Cold Fact and Coming from Reality, under a small record label named Sussex. Unfortunately, Sixto’s music never really caught on and in 1975 he was dropped from his label. Unfathomed by his initial lack of success in the music industry, Sixto was satisfied that he at least was given the opportunity to chase his dream and continued with his life working as a manual laborer in his hometown of Detroit and even ran for mayor. However, in an odd twist of fate, a bootleg copy of Cold Fact made its way to South Africa and contributed a sound that resonated with the socially oppressed and tormented youth of the time. Like other socially conscious musicians of the seventies including Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and Marvin Gaye, Sixto harmonized songs of protest, commented on social issues, and weaved tales of Detroit street life within the folky strings of his acoustic guitar. His music has a timeless quality and it is amazing that it didn’t reach people in the same way as other artists in his time.
Although his music was not commercially successful in the states, he unknowingly became an international star in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, and Australia. No one really knew who he was and there were even rumors that he committed suicide. A recent documentary titled “Searching for Sugarman,” highlights the efforts of two South African fans searching for Sixto and their attempts to get him to perform in their country. He eventually begins what would become a long line of sold out performances in Africa and Australia and is truly appreciated for his artistry. The fact that his music enchanted the African continent demonstrates the diversity of his sound. His messages were about poverty, politics, struggle, love and loss; his music helprd provide a voice to Africa’s hardships.
Although Sixto hasn’t completely reached the same level of success as his contemporaries, the seventy year old musician is finally gaining recognition in the states. People were late to catch on, but the quality of his music enabled it to survive the cold shoulders of American audiences. Success isn’t defined by America’s point of view, but it is nice to be appreciated by your home country. In a time where music does not affect me the same way it used to, I was fortunate to have someone share this sound with me. I listen to more old soul music than I do contemporary, and I felt like I just discovered a brand new artist. It is rare indeed when a musician is empowered with the skill and craft to change people’s lives, and although Sixto isn’t known to all, his music will carry on forever.