We have been approached by the Chamgelianis, a prominent singing family from the village of Latali one of the very few remaining villages in the rugged high Caucasus region of Svaneti, where traditional polyphony remains a way of life.
Here, in the hamlet of Lakhushdi, the village elders wish to continue and thus conserve their ancestral song ritual traditions currently under threat of extinction, and pass them on to their grandchildren.
Dating back to pagan times, these ancient acts of worship hold a precarious synthesis with the Christian Orthodox church. Their prominence in rural life is diminishing fast.
The 3 Chamgeliani sisters Anna, Madona, and Eka, and their brothers Kakha, and Murtaz, seek to invite a group of sympathetic people willing to enter into the spirit of their unique cultural heritage, to their mountain village each summer.
Guests in Svaneti are considered a gift from God.
This year the villagers will be practising again the ancient Limkheri ritual, as they have done for generations and beyond.
If managed carefully, the elders propose that the interest generated by this extraordinary invitation may serve to send a powerful message to their own young people-children who have been born into a modern Georgia and a new generation of “virtual” communications.
They hope that this invitation will send out a clear message about the intrinsic value of roots, and about the spirit of a shared humanity –a birthright still intact here.
A message central to our global existence .
Guests will live fully integrated into village families, learn ancient pre Christian Svan polyphonic songs and dances at source, alongside village children, taught by village elders.
They will also learn about Svan history and culture, and participate fully in the preparation ritual and feast ceremony.
The whole village community takes part, and it is Lakhushdi’s turn this year to host the event.
Those who wish to participate in this unique experience will contribute in a small way both to the preservation of the musical lifeblood of the Svan people, whilst at the same time learning the music authentically, in context, and thus play a small part in insuring against its dilution.
Our aim is to ensure that any profits will be ploughed back to directly benefit the village itself.
We are therefore deliberately pitching the cost at just below commercial rates.
This opportunity of a lifetime will appeal to musicians, traditional singers, enthusiasts of Georgian music, as well as those whose singing may currently be limited to the shower, but who for personal or professional and/or spiritual reasons feel a sense of excitement and anticipation upon reading this, and honoured to be offered an authentic opportunity to live history first hand.
Svaneti is a world Heritage site and July is a wonderful time to visit the High Caucasus as weather is temperate, nature at its most resplendent, and wildflower meadows burgeon.
We emphasise, it will not be for everyone. Conditions may be physically challenging. Although a basic level of fitness is all that will be required. Special personal dietary requirements may mean forward planning.
Our travel to the mountain ritual is likely to be on horseback led by a villager.
There will be animal slaughter at the feast (witnessing not obligatory!). We are promised inside toilets and showers in the village, but they remain the exception.
The remoteness, and lack of immediately accessible Western medical facilities may not suit people with serious underlying medical problems.
The following observation from a Canadian visitor to a neighbouring village, encapsulates the spirit with which we wish to approach this remarkable event:
“Eugenio Barba who founded International School of Theatre Anthropology, proposes that people barter in such situations-exchange something. It is not that you have to feel obliged to “perform”, but rather that you remember that you are not a tourist – your access is privileged, and what is shared with you can possibly engage in you your own sense of self. Profoundly old and rich tools of culture are like a catalyst, or a scalpel that cuts away all the dross with amazing speed and agility. Either you engage, or you are knocked aside, off your balance!”
To us, this opportunity is something completely unique, which may never be repeated. We consider it an honour to have been asked to be of service, and see our role as facilitative.
This is not a tour, nor a song learning “camp”. Nor is it an anthropological or musicological expedition, although aspects of all of those may apply. This is an opportunity to learn at source, in context.
Village musicians, led by “Uncle Gigo” Chamgelini, Taisevs brother, will provide song and round dance tuition.
Women will also teach.
Example Of Georgian Polyphony:
Use the player below to hear a number of the village men sing with the well known Svan Choir “Riho “ led by Islam Pilpani.
Riho Choir dance perxhuli
During Our Time There:
Our time there will also coincide with a more publicly accessible festival in another local village, which we also hope to attend.
Hosting remains a sacred duty in Svan villages, where contented guests in this lifetime, it is believed, determine the quality of the afterlife of the host.
We are therefore asked to bring people who come with a commitment to entering fully into the spirit of the proceedings, willing to forfeit – albeit briefly – reliance on modern facilities and honoured to enter another world with its own logic and, at times, apparently perverse priorities.
We expect the demand to be high and have been asked to offer a finite number of places to preserve balance
To be fair to all, on receipt of a non returnable deposit of £100 or equivalent in Euros or USD, we will allocate the first quota of places on a first come first served basis.
So to secure a definite place it is wise to act fairly swiftly.
The remaining places will continue to be allocated, this time with regard to the composition of the group, and the strength of individual applications, in consultation with the villagers.
We anticipate a possible waiting list.
We reserve the right to turn down applications
Attendance is strictly by invitation only.