Bulgaria: Mummers' Festival (Kukeri), Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria

A great clamoring of bells, fierce masks and animal costumes scare away the death of winter and evil spirits with a Mummers' Festival in Bulgaria's Rhodope Mountains.  This ancient Thracian tradition of Kukeri, or Mummers, rings forth in Shiroka Laka, a small town with cobblestone streets leading off the one main street.  It is 90 miles south of Sofia.  A fast flowing river ripples over rocks and down the hillside.   White houses with stone slab roofs are stacked on the hillsides in this architectural reserve.  Wood smoke rises from chimneys.  On the first Sunday in March 2016 it is 60 F; the air is crackling with anticipation as all ages peer down the street, waiting for the parade.

Tiny green leaves on the large willow tree bring color to the central square where groups of Mummers parade before the judges.   Each regional group has a theme  such as birds or animals with horns.   They perform skits about planting the fields, getting married and having babies.  New life is brought to the world now that death and winter has been frightened away.  Spring!

The Bulgarian National School of Folk Arts gave a concert.  These video clips are at the end of this article.

  Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria  . The willow tree.    ©   Evelyn Weliver

Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria. The willow tree.   ©   Evelyn Weliver

Listen for the percussive thump, especially near the end.  The vibration of the earth is also part of scaring away the evil spirits.

Notice how the tops of these tall hats are tied to their arms.

A wedding scene is enacted.

The above clip has a double reed zurna instrument playing.   A picture of it is below.

  This reedy sounding Bulgarian instrument is a zurna.   It is wooden and has a double reed   ©   Del Weliver

This reedy sounding Bulgarian instrument is a zurna.   It is wooden and has a double reed  ©   Del Weliver

After the parade and judging we ate lunch and then walked around the village.  The music floated through the village from the horo dancing  under the willow tree along with wood smoke from the chimneys above stone and tile roofs.

The Kalina Hotel, owned by Atanas Slavchev, provided delicious meals and comfortable rooms.  We watched much of the parade from our second floor rooms.

At dinner in the hotel, we had music from this well known gaida player  from Shiroka Laka.  I think he is playing the larger kaba gaida that has a lower pitch.  It is from this area of the Rhodope Mountains, home of Orpheus.

The National Folk Arts School of Bulgaria has 75 high school age students from around the country.  They study music composition, singing, dancing and playing folk instruments.  There are a number of folk regions in Bulgaria with distinctive dances and music.  You will notice that the costumes in each dance are different, representing different areas.  The ones with white caps are from the Black Sea area.

It is time to leave Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria.  I hope you have enjoyed your visit.

  Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria.   © Evelyn Weliver

Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria.  © Evelyn Weliver

  Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria.   © Evelyn Weliver

Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria.  © Evelyn Weliver