Folk tunes from the hills

Folk tunes from the hills

It’s rare to find youngsters sticking to their root in today’s westernised world. But here is an exception. Li (folk song) in the Chokri dialect of the Chakhesang tribe of Nagaland is the quartet of four sisters – ‘Tetseo Sisters’. 

Started by Mütsevelü (Mercy) and Azine (Azi) in 1994 and joined by the younger sisters Kuvelü (Kuku) and Alüne (Lulu) over time, the Kohima sisters love exploring the rich treasure of Naga folk songs.

“The songs are pretty flexible. So you can play around with the lyrics and just stick to the melodies. The choruses are always original but we rewrite the verses sometimes. Of course, some of the songs are retained as they were passed down to us,” explains Mercy, the eldest sister. 

The songs adhere to the acappella style combined with storytelling and are sometimes accompanied by the one-stringed traditional instrument tati.

Mercy says that the music scene in Kohima is booming right now. “We were the first state in India to declare music as an industry. So there are a lot of bands playing different genres. We don’t really have a lot of venues but even a group like ours manages to play a gig at least once a week. And it’s a different audience every time,” she shares. 

The group released its debut album ‘Li Chapter One: The Beginning’ in 2011. 

The album was 17 years in the making. Justifying the time gap, Mercy says, “We never really thought of making a record. But people kept asking us if we have a body of work that they could buy. That’s when we actually thought of an album. It’s been a pretty encouraging response.” 

She adds that there’s no common theme in the album with some songs being festive and happy while others dark and melancholic.

In 2013, the sisters were part of a song and music video titled ‘My vote makes my future’, which was sponsored by the Election Commission of India to promote voting and clean elections. “It’s always good for the youth to know that their voice is going to be heard. I wouldn’t say that people voted because of the song but we did something together as the youth of Nagaland. It inspired people to question what politics means to them,” notes Mercy. 

Being siblings, one is bound to ask if there’s a lot of fighting between the sisters. Mercy laughs and clarifies, “I wouldn’t say there are a lot of fights. We’re all very strong individuals and it’s only about pulling somebody up when one of us is slacking. On stage, we’re more of a band than sisters because we have specific roles.” 

The sisters are all set to perform at the Storm Festival, which will be held in the City in January-end. 

Other than the authentic experience of traditional Naga music, costumes and instruments, what else can one expect at Storm?

 “Since, it’s a totally new audience, we don’t want to pass off a chance to show everything that we do. So it’ll be a sampler set. The crowd in Bangalore is always exciting and we’re looking forward to it,” she concludes.

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