“Let’s go to Kežmarok and meet the Kesaj Tchave.”
This sentence was from my mum when I asked her what she wanted to see in Slovakia. I told you in our article about vacations, my mum paid me a visit in Rimavska Sobota for 2 weeks. It was enough time to discover the city and to go on a small trip, and Kežmarok was obviously important.
The Kesaj Tchave collective
If you don’t know about this name, Kesaj Tchave*, is a troup of musicians and dancers from the roma community who lives around Kežmarok. In fact this town, which is at the foot of the High Tatras, has the highest Roma population density in Slovakia. If there is 16 000 inhabitants in the town, there is also 30 000 roma people around, living in slums. In response to this situation a couple decided to help this community by creating a high school and a troupe of dancers and musicians.
Ivan Akimov and Helena Akimova created the group in 2000. With the help of others professional musicians, they want to guide young roma people and to offer them a better chance in life, through dance and music. In 2011, the success of Kesaj Tchave helped to create a secondary school in Kežmarok. This school is only dedicated to Romas, a place where they are not discriminated. Because sometimes roma students are considered as “troubled” or “disabled” because of their origin.
Unfortunately this school is now closed. But in 6 years 16 students got their maturita diploma, a degree which give access to university. Maybe for us it doesn’t seem impressive, but when you’re from slums and you made up to university, it’s a huge step forward.
How we discovered them
The first time my mum heard about Kesaj Tchave was through a documentary broadcast on the French-German channel, Arte, in 2014. After this, my mum made contact with Ivan Akimov and she finally saw him and the troup in Hagueneau festival in France. After a little talk the next meeting was setlled by Ivan : “Next time come to see us in Kežmarok”.
And so we went for one day in this town. We had time to shared a meal with Ivan Akimov and so, to learn a bit more about him. He was born in Czechoslovakia in 1955 and he had to leave his country during Prague Spring. Then he lived in France and begin his career as a musician. He started to come back in his home country from 1985, and created the troup Kesaj Tchave in 2000 with his wife Helena.
The music storm
After the lunch we had time to explore a little bit the city. There is some impressive buildings, like the holy trinity, a wooden church which is on the UNESCO list or the new evangelical church.
This little tour finished, it was time to go to the rehearsal. We arrived and sat down in a corner of the “dance studio”. But we were not ready for this storm.
Some musicians were missing, so it was only a man at the keyboard and Ivan Akimov. Ivan, his balalaïka in one hand and a metal stick in the other smashing a broken cymbal for the rhythm.
In 5 seconds all the people were singing and dancing in front of us, and it lasted for almost one hour without any break. Here, you don’t stop between the songs, it’s a one shot performance. Even if Ivan stands up sometimes to refocus a kid the others continue the song no matter what.
It was really an incredible show, and then one of the dancers took my hand and throw me into the crowd. I just had the time to saw my mum with the dancers too, and we were ready for an improvised dance lesson. After this little “surprise”, we shared an icecream with everyone and it was already time to go home.
It was an intense day and we discovered a lot of things in few hours. I can definetly recommand Kežmarok. If you want to go to the High Tatras it can be really good to stop by this place. And I can of course, recommand to follow Kesaj Tchave if you are interested by Roma’s music and culture. I would like also, to thanks Ivan Akimov and his troup for this amazing moment. I hope Kesaj will continue to guide you.
* Kesaj is a fairy from Roma’s culture. A fairy who spread the idea that you must first give love if you want to receive some.