Born 13 Sep 1936
Dies 23 April 2006
Name ID 2077
Extract Author: Imruh Bakari
Extract Date: May 29, 2006
In 1966 Christopher Elkington, who has died aged 69, moved from London to settle in the north-west of Tanzania, in the Kagera region, bordering on the western shores of Lake Victoria. This was the region with which he identified, becoming fluent in its language Kihaya, as well as Kiswahili, Tanzania's national language, and it was there that he earned the name Mugyabuso, meaning one who is direct and straightforward.
For 30 years this man, with a passion for jazz and an affinity with African culture, was associated with schools in the region. His work extended to a consultancy at the University of Dar es Salaam's Institute of Kiswahili where he was one of the editors of the seminal Swahili-English dictionary (2000).
By then Elkington had moved to Dar es Salaam where in 1996 he joined the IPP Media organisation as a newspaper editor and broadcaster. His Mind Your Language column in Tanzania's Sunday Observer underlined his familiarity with Tanzanian culture, as he played on idiosyncratic uses of English. He also wrote passionately about African art, championing Tanzanian sculptors and Tingatinga painters in particular.
From 1998 it was his weekly Dar es Salaam Sky FM radio programme It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing, which brought Elkington to wide public attention. The programme reflected his semi-religious commitment to the music of the 1940s and 50s.
He was particularly interested in British jazz, and when the young British alto player Soweto Kinch visited Tanzania in 2003, Elkington interviewed him, taking the opportunity to reflect on innovations since his departure four decades earlier.
The young Kinch had sparked reminiscences about Jamaican sax player Joe Harriott and the impact of South African musicians like Chris McGregor on the London of the 1960s. Elkington still recalled his time as a founding member of Ronnie Scott's club - having been there on that historic night in 1959 when the original club opened in London's Soho - and countless other, enjoyable nights, when it was not unusual to leave the venue as the sun was coming up, listening to British and American jazz. This, coupled with his wartime childhood, shaped Elkington's barbed, ironic humour. Together with his middle-class upbringing this distinguished him in Tanzania and set him apart from the expatriate community.
Elkington was born in Harrow-on-the Hill and initially educated at Quainton Hall School. Postwar the family moved to Polperro in Cornwall and he boarded at Lancing College in Sussex before reading anthropology and archaeology at St Catharine's College, Cambridge.
Jazz, meanwhile, had become a passion. He was a devotee of traditional jazz until, while at Lancing, he heard a Dizzy Gillespie 78rpm with Oo Bop sh'Bam and One Bass Hit, in a Hove record shop. Conversion was instant, and Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt became and remained among his idols.
At Cambridge Elkington distinguished himself as a drummer with the Cambridge Jazz Quartet and played around the London scene. Elkington often recalled those years, and the jazz giants visiting Britain for the first time, as well as the colourful characters whose mythologies provided his own endless anecdotes of the period.
Cornwall was his first memorable journey, but by his early adult years there were adventures in London with its forbidden attractions, and excursions in Europe. A friend had given him presents of African artefacts, and later the literature and politics of colonial Africa and apartheid South Africa in particular, were to inspire his radical sensibility and set him off to explore that continent.
In 2000, to his deep regret, It Don't Mean a Thing was axed. But, until his passing, he worked on writing for Tanzania's Guardian and Sunday Observer. Elkington was described by one writer as a "Mhaya of British origin" - meaning that he had been recognised as being of the Wahaya ethnic group.
He is survived by his wife and two daughters in Tanzania; and two daughters from an earlier marriage.
· Christopher Elkington, teacher and journalist, born September 13 1936; died April 23 2006