Stephen Segerman speaks to Daily Maverick about Malik Bendjelloul
From Daily Maverick
Malik Bendjelloul, the Swedish director of ‘Searching for Sugar Man’, has committed suicide aged 36. It’s just over a year since the documentary about folk musician Rodriguez won Bendjelloul an Oscar and captured the hearts of viewers all over the world. REBECCA DAVIS spoke to Bendjelloul’s subject and friend, Cape Town record-store owner Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman.
The last time I interviewed Stephen Segerman in his den in Oranjezicht, it was July 2012, just prior to the official release of Searching for Sugar Manin South Africa. At that time Segerman gave the impression of a man both bemused and exhilarated by the success of the film, in which he features prominently as one of two South Africans who made it their mission to track down Rodriguez.
Shortly before the interview, he’d been to the Sundance Film Festival with Bendjelloul and Rodriguez, where the film received a standing ovation. “It was just a magical night,” he told me at the time.
Watch: Searching for Sugar Man trailer
Almost two years later, the fairytale seemed even rosier. Searching for Sugar Man won the Best Documentary Oscar at the 2013 Academy Awards. Rodriguez, who languished in obscurity for years, today has fame and fortune locked down. It was the ultimate feel-good story.
And then, on Tuesday, shocking news broke: Bendjelloul, aged just 36, was dead.
“You know, with some people you have inklings and maybes. With Malik? Suicide? Impossible,” says Segerman, shaking his head. “I thought he must have died in his sleep or something. When I heard, well…” he trails off. “I’ve been seeing the comments. This dude had the world at his feet, he had an Oscar…”
Malik Bendjelloul was a teen actor in his native Sweden, starring in a show which Segerman describes as the Swedish version of America’s Family Ties. As an adult he worked as a TV reporter for Sweden’s public broadcaster, specialising in making short films about visiting rockstars. Then he left to travel the world, looking for richer stories.
Segerman first heard from Bendjelloul in late 2006, when he emailed the record-store owner to say that he was coming to Cape Town, and asked if they could meet. He had learnt about Segerman’s involvement in the Rodriguez tale through a piece in the Guardian, and wanted to hear more.
“At that stage we had a shop on the corner of Long Street with lekker big glass windows,” remembers Segerman. “I can still see him coming around the corner and saying: ‘Hello, I’m Malik!’”
In an interview with Movie Scope Magazine in July 2012, Bendjelloul described the encounter:
“I met Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman, the guy who first started to look for Rodriguez in Cape Town, and when he told me the story I was just blown away. It was just so beautiful and touching. Just the one-sentence summary was pretty strong: ‘A man who doesn’t know that he is a superstar.’”
For his part, Segerman instantly warmed to the lanky Swede.
“He just had such a lovely energy: tall, bright-eyed…He reminded me of Tintin,” he says.
Segerman took him up Table Mountain and Bendjelloul filmed a short sequence of Segerman telling the story of the hunt for Rodriguez. Then he disappeared off to Sweden, and Segerman didn’t hear from him for six months. At that point, Bendjelloul emailed to say: that’s the story we like in Sweden.
Bendjelloul returned to Cape Town and shot a one-minute trailer in Segerman’s den. He took it to the Sheffield Documentary Festival, where aspirant filmmakers pitch their stories. Bendjelloul won. A full-length documentary was on the cards.
Segerman points to a photograph pinned to a cabinet. It shows Segerman, Bendjelloul and camera woman Camilla Skagerström. “That was the team,” he says. “Just them. They came here and shot, then went to Detroit. There was barely any budget. Just – excuse the cliché – passion.”
Photo: Stephen Segerman, cinematographer Camilla Skagerström, and filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, pictured in Segerman’s den in Cape Town.
In Detroit, there was the tricky business of persuading the reclusive Rodriguez to feature in the film at all. Bendjelloul worked his way in by meeting the musician’s family members one by one. He got his way eventually through sheer charm, Segerman says. Even so, filming Rodriguez had certain unique challenges. There’s a scene in the film where Rodriguez is fiddling with a video microphone while he talks. It still had to be used: there was no question of a do-over.
“There was always only gonna be one take,” Segerman chuckles. “No way was Rodriguez going to say all those things all over again.”
For over a year, Bendjelloul sat in his flat in Stockholm making the film. People promised funding and backed out. He ran out of money for animation, so he had to do the animation work himself. It’s the stuff of legends now that some scenes in the documentary had to be filmed using a $1 Super-8 iPhone app.
“That movie is sort of a bit jerry-built – kind of smashed together,” says Segerman. “I saw it for the first time and thought: That doesn’t look anything like movies I’ve checked, slick, beautifully-made documentaries!”
But the film’s sheer heart – and the incredible story it told – more than compensated for its technical weaknesses. Some suggested that the story was a little too incredible – that Bendjelloul had conveniently omitted aspects of the Rodriguez narrative that didn’t easily fit within the rags-to-riches trajectory.
“There were two main snipes about the film,” Segerman says today. “The first was that Rodriguez wasn’t actually an anti-Apartheid hero – which I never said. The other criticism is about Australia.” Bendjelloul’s documentary left out the fact that Rodriguez was aware that he had a major fan-base in Australia, and had toured there twice in the late 70s and early 80s.
“The simple explanation, which we spoke about, is that [Searching for Sugar Man] is about the search of two South Africans for Rodriguez,” Segerman says. “I found out about the Australian tour the night that I met Rodriguez for the first time, in March 1998. If I’d known, I would have tracked him through Australia! It was not part of our story.”
Segerman says Bendjelloul was unruffled by this criticism. “It made zero difference,” he says. “For him to create something which brought so much happiness into the world…Nothing could have bothered him about that.”
Segerman and Craig Bartholomew, the music journalist who also features in the documentary as instrumental in the hunt for Rodriguez, attended the Oscars with Bendjelloul last year.
From his wallet, Segerman extracts a piece of card on which he’d jotted down ideas for an acceptance speech for Bendjelloul, since the filmmaker hadn’t prepared anything.
“I’m superstitious about preparing speeches – this has been lucky for me,” it begins.
In the end, the laconic Swede didn’t need the prompt. “Oh boy!” Bendjelloul said when he won. “Thanks to one of the greatest singers ever, Rodriguez!”
There’s a photo in Segerman’s den of the three men tux-ed up, Bendjelloul clutching his statuette, at the prestigious Vanity Fair after-party.
“Just on my left side, over there,” says Segerman, pointing at the photo, “there was this old American dude. I thought: who’s that? He obviously wasn’t an actor.” He pauses. “It was Buzz Aldrin. For a baby-boomer like me, you don’t get any better than that. I met Buzz Aldrin, and then I went home.”
Interviewed by the New York Times in May last year as part of a list of ’20 Filmmakers To Watch’, Bendjelloul hinted at the surreal aspects of having made such a successful first film.
“Since everything was the first time for me, it was a bit confusing to understand what last year was all about,” Bendjelloul admitted. “To travel around with your film is a weird experience. Filmmakers are not musicians, they can’t perform their film; you don’t even need to load the projector. It was weird to think that that year was the reward for the work. But now I realise that it’s this year that is the reward. To feel free to do exactly what you want to do without feeling too scared that your ideas won’t interest anyone or worry about the rent or having to deal with people who think they know better.”
After the Oscars, Segerman says Bendjelloul was besieged with offers.
“Malik had been turning down a huge amount of stuff. He had a lot of offers of TV commercials, that kind of thing, but he wasn’t the type of guy to sell out. Your first full-length movie wins an Oscar! What the hell do you do for a second?”
In fact, for his next major project, Segerman said Bendjelloul had turned again to a South African story. He was working on a screenplay for a feature film inspired by the experiences of conservationist Lawrence Anthony, dubbed ‘the elephant whisperer’ for his work with traumatised elephants.
“He loved South Africa,” Segerman says. “I always say he should have been an honorary Capetonian. You have no idea how many people found out about Cape Town from his movie. He made it look so beautiful.”
Bendjelloul didn’t let his newfound fame go to his head, according to Segerman. “He always looked a little bit shy, a little bit awkward. It’s not an easy thing to deal with.”
Segerman was last in touch with the filmmaker last Monday, when the two had an email exchange about a legal dispute unfolding between two of Rodriguez’s old record labels. He says Bendjelloul gave no sign at all that anything was emotionally amiss.
“You know, through the film… My little record shop became a great little record shop. Rodriguez found his destiny. Malik, I thought, had found his,” Segerman says.
“You put something like that out there. The joy that I’ve got out of it – how much more so for Malik? And it wasn’t enough.” DM
Mabu Vinyl featured in The 11 Best Things In Cape Town, South Africa Every Music Fan Should Do | Tone Deaf
From Tone Deaf
While we uncovered some of South Africa’s musical delights in our guide to Johannesburg that metropolis’ music scene is nothing in comparison to Cape Town.
The second most populous city in the country is home to a music scene that is on the verge of something special.
Cape Town has the traits of a successful music city. Small, but also community minded musicians are welcomed into a diverse scene.
As rising musician Petit Noir puts it to Huffington Post, “Because Cape Town is so small, everyone interacts with each other. Whatever you do, you will always feel welcomed. People are very chill”.
“The music scene in Cape Town is very small but diverse. There are lots of bands around. Because of how Cape Town was designed, different areas have different sounds,” says the musician.
Cape Town is small in comparison to Johannesburg, but its size is its blessing. It’s easy to immerse yourself in the city’s music scene just by heading to the CBD where you’ll stumble across the majority of the best venues.
Another promising facet of the city’s music scene is the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival (which made it into our list of the 16 best international boutique festivals). It puts local electronic musicians side-by-side with some of the world’s best.
As the festival continues to grow it will undoubtedly push the city’s music scene further into the limelight.
Cape Town’s international exposure may not have reached further than its starring role in the Oscar winning documentary Searching For Sugarman, but it’s only a matter a time before its up and coming musicians start to make a notable impact on music culture.
Read on to discover our 11 highlights that all music fans should check out in Cape Town.
Purchase More Than Just Rodriguez Records at Mabu Vinyl
2 Rheede Street
This record store has been the best of its kind in Cape Town since 2009. However its owner Stephen Segerman got a taste of the fame that will define the store for a long time in 2013 via the Oscar winning documentary in Searching For Sugarman. Mabu has a large selection of vinyl, CDs, DVDs, cassettes, videos, books, t-shirts, comics, magazines and turntables on offer.
Mabu Vinyl featured in 40 Things To Do In Cape Town Under R200 | Travelstart
We’re almost halfway through 2014 and Cape Town is still enjoying the spoils of the momentum she’s gathered from numerous international press mentions from the New York Times to TripAdvisor and The Telegraph. Cape Town is now firmly on the world map as a destination unmissable. Table Mountain now joins the likes of the Statue of Liberty, The Gherkin, the Eifel Tower, Burj Khalifa, Sydney Opera House and the Shanghai Tower; a newly tacked on natural edifice on the tapestry of the world’s iconic cities.
But what lies beyond its beautiful mountain, historical Robben Island, wine regions and most popular sights? With this comprehensive list of alternative things to do in Cape Town we encourage you to explore the other side of the city. Discover Cape Town’s unique culture, people and history through outdoor activities, restaurants and bars and museums. We help you uncover 40 places around Cape Town to eat, play, shop, celebrate and relax, as well as an attractive smattering of free things to do in Cape Town.
Browse and buy vinyl at Mabu
Cost: Vinyl – from R50 to R600. Shooting the breeze with Stephen – priceless.
The art of record collecting is alive and well in Cape Town City Bowl where Mabu Vinyl is at the forefront of this niche sub-culture. Stephen Segerman of Searching for Sugar Man fame is co-owner of the store and is usually available for a spirited chat about the 2012 hit movie in which he featured. Mabu stocks a rare selection of classics with a catalogue including second-hand records, books, comics, CDs, DVDs and cassettes. The store in Gardens is open 7 days a week.
Contact: 021 423 7635 | View location
Gavin Bonner Releases New CD – ‘Of Beasts and Kings, Skins and Strings’
“The audience went wild … This is the strangest, most mystifying talent I have seen in six years of Grahamstown festivals. Seriously, seeing is believing!” – Herald.
So who is Gavin Bonner? And do you want to hear what he sounds like??
Well, Gavin Bonner’s brand new CD, ‘Of Beasts and Kings, Skins and Strings’ is hot off the press, and now available online (details at www.gavinbonner.com) and also at Mabu Vinyl.
This new album features four powerful traditional tales from China, Baghdad, Venda and Russia rewritten and narrated by Gavin Bonner. Each story has a soundtrack and at the end of each tale a full length original instrumental track is provided by Gavin on percussion instruments from around the world, with Natalie Mason (UK) on Viola, plus special guest musicians, Guitarist Reza Khota (SA), Anastasis Sarakatsanos (Athens /London) on Qanoon, and Kyle Shepherd playing Uhadi Bow.
The CD is beautifully presented in a digipack format with a beautiful12-page booklet featuring original artwork with illustration and graphics by Nicole von Hasseln and photographs by Sarah Schafer and Ference Isaacs.
So who is Gavin Bonner?
Ashley Ramsden, the founder of the International School of Storytelling, described this unique Cape Town performer as follows: “Gavin Bonner is an inspiration! A poet, storyteller, musician and praise singer in one, he lets his wordplay weave and speak spontaneously to whatever is happening in a group of people.”
So here’s a quick history for you…..Gavin was born in London, and spent much of his childhood in South Africa growing up with a love of rock and African music and rhythms. A move back to London aged 14 opened up a world of musical diversity and he played with all kinds of bands touring round England and playing at many festivals including Glastonbury!
Years of travel followed to Australia, Europe, Canada, India, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, Turkey and more where he absorbed different philosphies, languages, stories, and musical styles. Some great percussionists he has studied with include Glen Velez (USA), Zohar Fresco (Israel), Pete Lockett (UK), Achu and Prosper Gagadu (Ghana and Numan Elyer and Tarik Tuysuzoglu (Turkey )
He has performed and recorded alongside legends such as Bill Bruford, Gary Husband, Juan Martin, Congolese percussionist Douze Balles, founder and leader of Mbonda Loningisa, and cellist Julia Palmer ( Nigel Kennedy ).
While living in Sydney, Gavin earned his living as a street performer playing the Djembe Drum. After a while he began to make passing commentaries in his mind about passers by (the tone often determined by the tip they gave or not!). When he started vocalising these rhyming commentaries, the tips became larger and more frequent!
Slowly this developed into the ability to tell stories spontaneously, in rhyme, often accompanying himself on drums – his humour and lightning quick improvisational skills always go down a treat with audiences.
Gavin does regular storytelling performances fusing traditional tales from around the world, modern tales and improvised stories . He usually has a large selection of drums with him and loves to collaborate with fellow storytellers, poets and musicians.
A recent 3 month intensive study period at The School of Storytelling in the UK deepened and informed his storytelling work. Stories have the power to entertain, to heal,and to transform perception and Gavin loves to share his story and storieswith children and adults alike.
Gavin currently lives in Cape Town, and regularly performs in the UK and elsewhere……
“A story has many feet, but poet musician and storyteller Gavin Bonner, a Londoner living in South Africa, gives it wings “ Cape Argus Tonight
Further information at www.gavinbonner.com
aKing video at Mabu
The recent zany aKing video for their track ‘Against All Odds’ was partially shot on location at Mabu Vinyl, check the video out here:
In search of vinyl, part 1: Mabu Vinyl in Cape Town, South Africa
Inside, Mabu Vinyl looks and smells like an authentic second-hand store should. It’s stacked to the ceiling with used VHS tapes, random posters, loose CD’s, second hand books, and of course, vinyl records. It’s all about the vinyl. As it should be. It’s dark, it’s moody…it’s perfect.
via In search of vinyl, part 1: Mabu Vinyl in Cape Town, South Africa.
Half Price CD Sale At Mabu Vinyl – Now On!
There’s a massive CD sale now on at Mabu Vinyl!
Starting on Monday 26 October….
Over 5000 CDs are now at Half-Price, except for some independent South African CDs.
Lots of new stock, lots of great titles…….rock, pop, hip hop, jazz, South African, house and more
There’s always something for U at Mabu.
Stephen Timm presents Myrid Ambre Live At Mabu Vinyl
phone.083 330 4013.