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Vocal group Tetseo Sisters to enthral Mumbai with tunes from Nagaland

Tetseo Sisters and a group of singers from Phek village in Nagaland to share notes and rhythms from their home state in their upcoming Mumbai performance

"Election or not, you better get back to your hotel by 8 pm," a friend who is a resident of Kohima told this writer. And it rang true as the sun came down. By 8 pm, the streets of Dimapur were empty.

The team of 20 singers from Phek village (over a 100 km from Kohima) in Nagaland
The team of 20 singers from Phek village (over a 100 km from Kohima) in Nagaland

But when a projector was put up on Diphupar Gate, an end of the city, and it screened a track that was a fusion of local and Western music, the scene slowly transformed with a considerable crowd gathering swiftly. Soon after, a group of young boys and girls started distributing pamphlets and held up the cause of the show in their hands — that of a clean election and the right to vote.

The Tetseo sisters Azi, Kuvelu, Mercy and Alune in traditional  Naga attire
The Tetseo sisters Azi, Kuvelu, Mercy and Alune in traditional Naga attire

This was a campaign initiated by Alobo Naga, a Pop-Rock singer from the state, for the 2013 Assembly election, who had already made it to the international charts. And music, he believed, was the strongest and the easiest way to communicate a message in Nagaland. With more than 16 tribes, each with their folk music that evolved through centuries; influences from Japan and Korea, and great patrons of music, including former chief minister Neiphiu Rio, Nagaland speaks in music, he asserted.   

The Tetseo sisters Mercy, Kuvelu, Alune and Azi
The Tetseo sisters Mercy, Kuvelu, Alune and Azi

Sister act
Around the time, haunting, melodious notes from three beautiful girls flashed on the projector at the public square. Their songs had the crowd cheering. When we asked Naga about them, he said, "They are the Tetseo Sisters, who are helping me in this campaign. They are very talented. We are proud of them."  The next year, the sisters won the MTS Discover title at NH7 Weekender, and played at the Festival’s stage in Kolkata, Pune and Delhi. Soon, they started performing across the country, including Mumbai, and abroad.

The sisters were a part of Nagaland’s clean election campaign in 2013. This frame was from a screening at Diphupar Gate in Dimapur. Pic/Dipanjan Sinha
The sisters were a part of Nagaland’s clean election campaign in 2013. This frame was from a screening at Diphupar Gate in Dimapur. Pic/Dipanjan Sinha

They have sung covers for artistes like the Wonder Girls, the South Korean girl band and their last foreign performance was at Kunming in China.

So when it came to composing the track for the North East United FC team last year, they were an obvious choice.
The sisters were thrilled to be a part of the sport they are passionate about...

A traditional Naga gate. Pic/Dipanjan Sinha
A traditional Naga gate. Pic/Dipanjan Sinha

..."We were abroad when we got the call and eventually, got down to recording our part as soon as we were back in town. We are football fans, and it was great to sing the theme song for the one team representing the whole NE region and the beautiful game that we love," they said on email.

The sisters will be performing at NCPA tomorrow, and the audience can expect a few surprises. Though the sisters are popular for promoting the Folk music of Nagaland, especially the tradition of Li or folk songs of the Chakhesang Nagas, they experimented with Bollywood music last year.

"We were invited to work on a Bollywood song for Bindass Play’s Bollywood Republic. It turned out great and we had fun fusing one of our favourite Folk songs with the lovely AR Rahman number, Barso Re. We performed it in our style, with traditional Naga instruments like the Tati, Khro-khro, bamhum and log drum. We shot the video on a stormy April morning in the beautiful village of Khonoma in Nagaland, and it was quite a day," they responded.

High on life and work, the sisters aren’t planning much now, and on collaborations they look forward to perform with musicians across genres and countries. "Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Amit Trivedi, AR Rahman, Anoushka Shankar or just someone next door in Kohima," are in their list. And even if not quite collaborating, the other group performing at the festival is a 20-member team from Phek village, a few hours away from Kohima.

This group, Dr Suvarnalata Rao, head programming at NCPA, says, have never stepped out of Nagaland. She invited them after being introduced to their music when Rao came across a project by Chennai filmmakers Anushka Meenakshi and Iswar Srikumar. The duo have been documenting the group for five years. The performance of the group will be interspersed with footage from the project.

On: March 19 and 20, 6.30pm onwards
At: NCPA, Nariman Point
Call: 66223737

Tribe trivia

>> Both Tetseo Sisters and the Phek village group sing in Chokri, the dialect of the region around Phek. Every tribe in Nagaland has a different dialect. There are about 60 different spoken dialects in the state.

>> The tribes speak to each other in Nagamese, that is an amalgamation of Assamese, Bengali and local dialects.


Also read...

Songs Of The Blue Hills, a documentary, which explores contemporary Naga folk music and featured the Tetseo Sisters, toured five international festivals in 2014 (Read more)
Tetseo Sisters

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