Wrote about us

From the Roma settlement to Olympia

Veronika Šikulová, authoress | 22.07.2015 13:00

Grenoble, France. Awful heat. I switch the television on. Suddenly I hear Slovak language. The Franco – German TV station ARTE  broadcasts short documentary about Roma group Kesaj Tchave from Kežmarok, which had performance at the end of last year in Olympia in Paris.

A man, who knows something about the world of music, knows what this means, and also knows, that many artists failed to fulfill this dream. But Paris clapped to the rhytm of Ivan Akimov´s group Kesaj Tchave. They performed their art before the group Les Ogres de Barback and the French people accepted them with enthusiasm.

Arte has prepared a short reportage and interviews with performers and with their artistic director. Dancing kids from Slovak Roma settlements on the stage of Olympia. "Are you afraid? " Asks the boss. "No, we are not afraid." "You need to fear. Show how you shake your knees!" One of the boys shake his legs. "Everyone need to shake a little," says head of group, "we are in Olympia!"

Edith Piaf also came to Olympia “from the street". And now there were our Roma. We can be proud of them and we can be happy, that we have people like Ivan Akimov. Incidentally, the French appreciated Ivan Akimov´s work and they gave him a Order of the Knights. But, in his own country, no one is a prophet.

I was moved when I saw how he talks with the kids, walks through villages and looking for members of the group. I envied them such a sympathetic friend, who, instead of talking about so-called Roma issue, is doing something concrete. And unlike most, who say more than do more, he really do his job well! And you can hear about it!

I don´t want to say, that there are no problems, but I am bowing deeply in front of people who are in the field, teachers, social workers, who do beautiful work, have not even a word of recognition for it, but they still do their work. We can work with Troma, but at home majority always talk about negative examples .

We can find a successful Roma living in Slovakia, with diploma from university. But it seems that they are invisible. But we need to talk about successes! You should notice them more than setbacks and misunderstandings .

I searched on the Slovak internet for report about Kesaj Tchave in Paris, but I found only kind of ridiculous report in which was the “information”, that a group will perform in Greece (!) Olympia. I smiled.

I saw only a short part from the performance of Kesaj Tchave in Olympia on TV Arte, but I was amazed, because there was everything: beauty, passion, color, sadness, nostalgia, mischief, playfulness, pride and misery. Even the Roma culture, even Slovak and, thanks to Ivan Akimov, who has strong ties to the French cultural environment, also a little Frenc . They made a great performance in Olympia.

For group from Kežmarok and also for us, Slovaks, this meant the great leap forward. And thanks to the reportage, which I saw, will people from abroad know that in Slovakia we have people who don´t want to build walls and fence around the Roma settlements, but they, on the contrary , "demolish" these walls and fences.  They know that the hand is not only for hitting and threatening, but also for shaking of hands. Touches of cultures and their intersections are the most interesting.

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Whoever has seen Késaj Tchavé, a group of girls and boys who sing and dance under the baton of Ivan Akimov, will never forget them! The beauty of their performance is breathtaking. The show leaves you spellbound from the very start through to the end, and you’ll even stay under the spell of these performers when you leave. Through the voices of these children, we can feel the unspoken spirit of a world that cannot be allowed to die…
Le Dauphiné Libéré, 21. 08. 2008

Let your inner gypsy take over! Glorious spontaneity, Gypsy soul and simple and incredible joie de vivre can be found in all of their songs. Spend just two minutes in their company and your throat will close up and your heart will cry out, filled with intense emotion which is taking hold of you.

Ouest-France, 24. 08. 2005

The 25th annual Festival of World Dance and Music of Montignac came to a close last night.
One of the most memorable moments was certainly the Saturday night show performed by the Slovakian ensemble Kesaj Tchavé, which is made up of about twenty Gypsy children and adolescents, all of whom are street children. A pure and simple moment of joy.
Sud-Ouest, 1. 08. 2005

The Slovakian group Kesaj Tchavé is proof that street children can become animals on stage. A huge wave of Rom energy can be felt, constantly switching between sadness and jubilation and washing over the audience, which was soon won over by the group’s energy.
Télégramme de Brest, 22. 08. 2005

When the members of the public, filled with emotion, applaud the extraordinary performance of the children from Kežmarok, they do not realise that for these children, dancing and singing are a bridge to normal life. All of the members of the ensemble live together in a house, where they learn to live a different kind of life.
Korzár, 27 April 2004





“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.