Arts and Culture

S'No Good: SA bids farewell to music icon Syd Kitchen

Lisa Van Wyk

Durban music icon Syd Kitchen has died after a long battle with lung cancer. He died at the Hospice in Durban on Tuesday night.

Durban music icon Syd Kitchen has died after a long battle with lung cancer. He died at the Hospice in Durban on Tuesday night.

Kitchen, instantly recognisable for his floppy hat and eccentric dress, was an avid supporter of young musicians, regularly appearing in the audience at gigs, and was an inspiration to a new generation of folk musicians, such as the internationally acclaimed Guy Buttery.

The “Afro-Saxon” musician, as he called himself, had been an integral part of South Africa’s folk scene since the 1970s, when he formed a duo with his brother Pete, in which Syd played guitar, percussion and did vocals. At the same time he published Scars that Shine, a book of his poetry.

In 1979 he embarked on a solo career, recording the album S’No Good and the Reason Why. He also opened a guitar shop in Durban, which became a mecca and meeting place for local musicians.

The eclectic musician, while a regular fixture on the local, and increasingly international, folk scene—he appeared annually at festivals such as Splashy Fen (the only musician to appear every year since its inception)—was also known for his collaboration with blues, jazz and rock musicians. He was enthusiastic about collaborations with musicians he admired, and worked with Wesley Gibbens, Nux Schwartz and Greg Leisegang on the 1999 EP AmakoologiK.

He continued to write poetry, appearing at poetry festivals, and was known for the socio-political messages of his lyrics.

Intricate guitar technique
In 2001 he produced a solo project, Africa’s Not For Sissies. The album came fourth in SA Rock Digest‘s Top 30 Albums of 2001, and was acclaimed for Kitchen’s intricate guitar technique. Kitchen was at this time also studying towards his PhD in music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

He embarked on a successful solo tour abroad in 2004 during which he performed in England, Wales, Norway and Denmark, at among others, the Glastonbury Festival in England and the Kongsberg Jazz Festival in Norway.

In 2008 Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker Joshua Sternlicht made a film about the eccentric poet and muso, Fool in a Bubble, that showed Kitchen recording in his studio and as he travelled to perform in New York, where he also recorded with Paul Simon’s band.

In recent years he had been working with maskanda guitarist Madala Kunene, touring and recording together as Bafo Bafo (Brother Brother).

At the time of his death, there were a number of benefit concerts planned for Kitchen, featuring many of his collaborators.

A compilation album featuring his cover of cult British jazz musician John Martyn’s Fine Lines is due for release in June. The album also features The Cure’s Robert Smith, David Gray, Beck and Eric Clapton doing covers of Martyn’s work.

Kitchen is survived by his wife, Germaine, and two children.

Last week, in an interview with City Press, Kitchen said: “I’ve lived life, I’m proud of my credibility and what I’ve done—more than most my age. I’ve filled up three lifetimes in a way.”


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