In a small village not too far from Plovdiv, a motley carnival crowd gathers beneath the cold cloud to soak up the transformative energy of the Kukeri.
The men of the village, costumed and masked, wear a belt of clanging copper bells and carry wooden swords, symbols of fertility, with which they may bless your shoulder. Beautiful black hessian hoods in pyramid form are carried high and sometimes come down to shroud the men. They have already been through the houses to chase the evil spirits away and to bring good health, abundant harvest and happiness. Now they dance-walk, encircling the driving solar rhythms of the ‘tapan’ drums and the hypnotic melodies of the ‘zurna’ wind instrument, played by local Romani musicians.
Traditionally performed only by men, today it is a young woman in hidden-heel-bling-sneakers who carries the leading phallus of the parade. Incongruous rubber gorilla masks mingle with the more traditional woolley-horned spirits and some beautifully hand-made colourful cloth masks…
A ritual that was forbidden during the totalitarian years here exudes a rough kind of gusto – tattooed muscle smokes in the back-line, but there is always time for that energetic whacking of peoples backs with an inflated sheep’s stomach, to chase out evil spirits and bring good health!