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INTERVIEW: Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman on 'Searching for Sugar Man'

Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman is known for his Cape Town-based record store, Mabu Vinyl. Although, after the release of Searching for Sugar Man, the record store owner will be better known for inspiring and driving the quest to find out what became of '70s rock icon, Rodriguez. Segerman, founder of Sugarman.org, features extensively in the award-winning documentary, which has just been nominated for an Oscar. Spling caught up with the man behind this amazing true story to get his take on the music documentary and find out about life after Searching for Sugar Man...

How did you get involved in ‘Searching for Sugar Man’?

I was contacted by Malik Bendjelloul, a Swedish TV journalist, in 2006. Malik had a round-the-world air ticket with a brief to find some interesting stories for short length documentaries for his TV program, Kobra. I told him the Rodriguez story and he filmed some footage and off he went. A year or so later he decided that he wanted to make a full length film about this crazy story. So for the next 5 years we worked on it until it was finished and ready for submission to Sundance.

Why did it take over a decade for this amazing story to make the leap to film?

The first tour was in 1998 and there was an hour-long documentary released around that time, called ‘Dead Men Don’t Tour’, which showed on SA TV, and another short student film by Justin Cohen, called ‘Looking For Jesus’, a few years later. But Malik was the first person to approach us since 1998 with the intention of making this film, so it wasn’t intentional to only make this film now, it’s just that nobody else had got round to doing it.

Rodriguez is an enigma, do you think Searching for Sugar Man is an accurate reflection of the man?

Definitely! Rodriguez is as reserved, contemplative, philosophical, enigmatic, and deep-thinking as he comes across in the film.

Searching for Sugar Man is a documentary that sinks into your bones - to what do you attribute this?

Besides the way Malik has chosen to tell this incredible story as a detective mystery, which is a very emotional ride, I think it is Rodriguez’s music, used so effectively in the film, that helps the film to resonate so strongly with people long after they have watched it.

Searching for Sugar Man contrasts the music industry of the ‘70s with today - do you think the music industry has changed?

It has changed dramatically, with so many ways to get one’s music heard these days, on LP, CD, MP3, and so much illegal downloading. The strange thing is that Rodriguez’s music initially spread around South Africa through illegal taping and bootlegging.

But now, with people shocked and aware of how Rodriguez lost out on so much money because of that illegal taping, the same people who have previously thought nothing about downloading any music they want, are now coming into Mabu Vinyl determined to buy the physical CD, so that Rodriguez gets his fair share of the royalties. That has a nice symmetry to it.

How has the film’s success affected you and your business?

Personally I have had a wonderful ride with the film – we went to Sundance to premiere it and won some awards there, and since then we have watched as the film continues to do well all over the world at festivals and in cinemas.

Mabu Vinyl has also benefited from its appearance in the film. The shop has become a minor tourist attraction in Cape Town and we are getting visited by many fans from all over the world, so that is a very lekker spin-off.

Searching for Sugar Man has been nominated for an Oscar... did you ever think this amazing “Cinderella” story would come this far?

On the one hand I never had any idea where this amazing story would eventually land up. We spent the years since the 1998 SA concerts trying to find ways to get Rodriguez noticed by the rest of the world, especially America.

Malik’s film has been the catalyst that managed to achieve this and we are thrilled with the fantastic job that he did. The Oscar nomination is a huge honour for us all and no less than Malik deserves for making this film and doing us all proud!