Your Future Awaits: Leliani, Kakheti


Having lived in Georgia longer than any other of the six countries my life has called home, I suppose it must be normal that my time in this country has given me many firsts. First cell phone, first blog, first laptop, first makings of liqueurs and cheeses, first permanent residence status, first entries in national and international photographic competitions (successes in both including catalog entries and exhibition participation). First and likely only marriage; first home and automatic-transmission car purchases. And first viewings of national-level televised talent competitions, which I began watching in Ushguli’s long winters more than ten years ago. Go, Keti Orjonikidze!

It was during the last season of “Nichieri” (Gifted: not the X-Men spinoff series, but another featuring people with real superpowers) that my wife pointed out to me an opera-singing entrant from her home village of Leliani, Lagodekhi region, Kakheti. She even knew him, distantly: Kakha Jomboridze. He sailed through auditions onto the stage, and was given a very enthusiastic pass by all four jury members (which included Georgia’s First Lady), singing the aria which Pavarotti used forever to unite football and classical music: the Turandot piece “Nessan Dorma” by Puccini. The jury proclaimed him virtually a living national treasure on the spot, and his future was to some degree assured.

Kakha did not become the first place Nichieri winner of 2017, but he was in the final. (He and I both think that his handlers’ preference for him to sing the same aria again for his final number was a mistake.) And, as Susan Boyle’s second-place win in similar circumstances in the UK proved, becoming number one isn’t everything: who can name the act which knocked her out and did win first? But SHE soon stole the current number one pop music chart position from… Madonna. And was produced by jury member Simon Cowell.

We caught up with 31-year-old Kakha in a small knot of men on the street outside his home in the interval between Western New Year and Orthodox Christmas, while visiting my wife’s family. His great, glorious talent has not jumped into existence untrained, but the Nichieri show was its first great exposure to the world, and in my humble estimation it took him as far as necessary for now. Life has given him some quite considerable health challenges before then, but he has come through these “by God’s mercy” and, quite whole, is ready to answer the new list of callers. They hail from various parts of Europe, including Italy, to which news of his use of the national language has obviously reached: Come to us, they say! He is in the enviable position of being able to choose from a variety of next steps to fame and further success.

I don’t know why my favorite from a decade ago, second-place winner Keti Orjonokidze, hasn’t gone farther than internet searches reveal that she has, into top-level national stardom if not international. I consider her a gem, although there are obviously many facets of chance and personality and circumstance in such rises. But I will be watching Kakha to see how his own star ascends, cheering him on, hoping for his fate to be a bright one. He deserves it, as so many people do and cannot get there. He will.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1800 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

Tony Hamner

11 January 2018 19:14