national Arts Festival Banner

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


(Syd Kitchen as most people will remember him)

A personal tribute to the great Syd Kitchen from fellow Durban musician Tim Wells.

The country's musical landscape has been robbed of one of its finest contributors. Who was this man Syd Kitchen? To write up a proper biography would be no easy task. Films have been made of our friend, so how can we hope to sum up so rich a life in just the written word? Suffice it to say, it would be very difficult to do justice to the multi-faceted, somewhat enigmatic kaleidoscope that is Syd. I am tempted to say “is” because he is such a mammoth presence in our lives that through his ingenious creations, he does indeed live on for us, as twee or hackneyed as that may sound.

Instead of trying to write a detailed outline of Syd's life and work, I am simply going to offer my personal experience of the man, the poet, the artist, the colleague, teacher, the inspiration that is Syd.

His was a name I recall hearing as a child as being one of our foremost musicians in the 70’s. When I formed a band in the late 90’s and began gigging, I met the man and shared the stage with him on occasion. It was clear that his integrity and his very real and inimitable musical skills were unique and plentiful. Here was a very deep thinker, too. Then there was his wry deadpan humour and sardonic take on things. There was also real care and love. I recall receiving a heartfelt card from Syd when I lost a dear family member to the same disease he had to face. There are his razor sharp insights shining through in his lyrics, showing us that true original creations really communicate meaningfully and force us to hold up the mirror, examine ourselves, laugh at ourselves.

I remember many years ago I phoned him while washing my car because I heard a song on the radio (back when Radio 2000 still played our kind of stuff) of his that I loved and wanted to know where it could be found. He said it was from the album City Child. Because we lived around the block from each other, it made it easy to get the album without delay. Syd's music is part of my collection as some of my very favourite music and I hold it in esteem alongside any of the greats. I had the privilege of singing some backing vocals on his album Amakoologic along with other music comrades of the era like Nux Schwartz, Roly Struckmeyer etc. In fact, most of that album was recorded in my house while Nux “house-sat” for us while we went overseas.

Sydney also played on my very first album back in 1998. He had those amazing PVC pipe flutes and he could play those things, man! He also did some guitar and mandolin on my third album with Colin Peddie. I attended a few guitar workshops with Syd and got some really helpful hints and solid lessons. I also got “hotboxed” and the passive inhalation of sweet blue smoke was part of the overall experience! Sorry I never practiced Maestro – I just get Nux to play for me, now!

Syd and Madala Kunene played at one of the soirees at our old home in Umbilo some eight years ago. What a privilege – just two men and two guitars, completely unplugged, making a fantastic evening. Who can forget the awesome combo, too, of the Aquarian Quartet when Syd teamed up with three other guitar virtuosos, Steve Newman, Tony Cox and Greg Georgiades.

One of my son's favourite albums ever is the Bafo Bafo CD – we used to play that pretty much non-stop soon after its release and to hear how a young autistic boy could express himself, singing along with gusto, “Hallo, you me Manje Manje!” was heart-warming to say the least!

Syd's rich legacy shows us that real success is not about accumulation of great material wealth and outward stature but in the produce of your heartfelt labour. Syd's catalogue shows his vast experience and skill, his authenticity as a creator of original works, his past pupils being part of the constructive influence he has had on all our lives. He has also shown us that as artists we can never give up or stop trying to create something new, because we never know when the right wave may come along to give us that extra helping hand in the form of a real “breakthrough”.

Syd had recently played on the tribute album to the renowned John Martyn and Syd told me that Martyn himself had been listening to and enjoying Syd's material before his own death, which is why Martyn's manager approached Syd to be part of the project. Just as he was about to be placed on another international platform (having also recorded in New York in the last couple of years with top session muzos), he is struck down. This does not diminish Syd's triumph in achieving this recognition. He got there, he was heard and will continue to be heard by not only us neighbourhood buddies and local fans, but by people all over the world.

Put on your colourful weird floppy top hats and let's go out into the world singing his genius for all to hear! Turn up your CD's – rock on Bra Syd! Big Love. “Hallo, you me, Manje Manje!” - Tim Wells