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I grew up in South Africa in the 1970's. This was the height of the apartheid era. In addition to abominable racial policies the South African government also had strict reign over popular culture. Much of western media, art, film, and music was banned.
As a kid I remember listening to an album from the late 60's called Cold Fact. It was one of the few albums owned by my older brother. He would play it constantly. Somehow the album had avoided government attention. The artist was Rodriguez, but very little was known about him. After moving to the US in the late 1970's I noticed that Rodriguez was completely under the radar. His music was nowhere to be found.
Fast forward to the late 1990's. For decades there had been no word from or about the mystery artist known as Rodriguez. It turns out he had become a cultural icon in South Africa. He was also popular in New Zealand and Australia, but in South Africa he was huge, especially with kids who had to serve in the armed forces. His two albums had gone multi platinum. But even in South Africa no one knew anything about the performer himself. There were rumors of course. Many assumed he was dead.
In the late 90's a journalist set out to solve the mystery once and for all. In the end Rodriguez was found in his home town of Detroit. Turns out he spent hard years working as a laborer. Rodriguez never knew of his fame in South Africa and other southern hemisphere countries. His wildly popular albums (locally released several times) had never earned him any royalties. Once "found" he was strongly urged to go to South Africa and play. The thunderous reception he received from South African fans simply stunned him. He filled venues across the country. His album Cold Fact, rereleased by Light In the Attic Records in Seattle, became widely known as a "lost classic" earning rave reviews. Rodriguez got airplay on alternative and college radio, which is pretty rare for a guy in his late 60's who had been completely forgotten for several decades.
Rodriguez began to tour again. He is currently on tour in Australia. He recently did a swing through the western US. I received permission from the publisher of Light In the Attic Records to photograph Rodriguez during his recent stop in Seattle. The experience and music were first rate.
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