The North East has consistently produced music that is synonymous with brilliance. Besides soloist and groups, several all-women bands are proliferating. The Tetseo Sisters are a household name that performs traditional Naga music. They hail from the Chakhesang tribe and come from a small village in a town called Thüvopisü in Nagaland.
The quartet consists of four sisters, Mütsevelü (Mercy), Azine (Azi), Kuvelü (Kuku) and Alüne (Lulu). Their genre is folk — traditional Naga folk songs in particular. They are trained in performing Li songs of the Chakesang tribe by their parents who have been actively involved in the cultural revival movement of Nagaland. An ‘a cappella’ style of singing combined with storytelling and the occasional use of one-stringed instrument tati or heka libuh (mithun horn), their compositions are mostly folklores on Nagaland. Some of the folk songs they sing have been compiled in the traditional songbook, Li kukre kutiko.
The sisters were one of the bands that recently performed at the Ladakh International Music Festival and returned with beautiful memories. FPJ speaks to Mercy about their experience. Excerpts:
You are probably the first ever band from the North East to perform at the Ladakh International Music Festival. How do you feel about it?
It was a wonderful feeling to sing our hearts and lungs out at the Ladakh International Music Festival. We are privileged to be the first “NE/Nagaland” band to perform at many beautiful events and this is another magical moment to keep in our hearts and praise God for his grace.
How different was singing in the mountains at the music festival, although it is also something that you are surrounded by back home?
Our lands are beautiful, but Ladakh is like another world. The altitude, crisp cold air, the energy of the audience and the beauty of the settings of the festival was breathtaking. We also got to adorn ourselves with the beautiful traditional Mogos (dress) of the Ladakhi people through our collaboration with Namza Couture of Leh during our performance to show our respect for Ladakhi culture as a fellow mountain tribe.
Were there any special songs that you sang at the concert?
We performed our favourite original songs, which were well received. It was heartwarming to have so many people sing along and dance to our hit Rhosi. We performed a short tribute — a cover of Teri Mitti, (from the film Kesari). We also performed As We Go, a single of ours, the music video was shot in different parts of Ladakh in 2016.
To someone who has not heard your music, how would you describe it?
Our music is the sound of the hills, a tribute to nature, the dreams and desires of the people of the hills and the experiments of a band of siblings who are proud of their roots and want to make a mark in the chaos of the world with their Naga simplicity and unique Naganess. Our music is simple, honest and uplifting.
Through your music, you also promote your culture. Tell us more about it.
We got into folk music because of our parents’ encouragement, but we fell in love with the folk songs of our people and started writing our songs too over time. Our performances are a glimpse into the world of Li or the Chokri folksongs of our ancestors, and move into folk fusion and originals in Chokri and other languages, reflecting our personal journey as people and artistes in the medium of music. Our colourful costumes reflect our roots and the region we represent, Nagaland, and the many NE states and the artistes that we collaborate with to tell stories of our people and region.
What is the common vision shared by the members of Tetseo Sisters?
To make happy, memorable music and to document, preserve and promote brand Naganess/ Nagaland and showcase the beauty of hill tribes, the voices that need to be heard more.
What do you think of the Indian music industry? Is there any change that you’d like to see?
The Indian music industry continues to grow and there is a sense of excitement now. The audience for non-Hindi music is expanding by the day. It is heartwarming to see and hear so many independent artistes doing well especially with digital platforms opening up new avenues. Language barriers are breaking down and so is the genre barrier.
People will consume good music no matter where it comes from. We wish all artists and musicians to keep breaking barriers and unite humanity with beautiful art.
Besides singing in the Naga dialect, what other language do you use in all your songs?
We sing Chokri Naga, Tenyidie Naga, English and some Hindi. We have also covered songs in Punjabi, Japanese, Korean and, recently, Mizo. We are working on more.
What are you working on currently?
There are quite a few interesting things happening including the OST of an indie film, an acoustic EP, a bunch of singles and some collaborative projects. Shows are opening up too so here’s to more live shows, travel, great music and inspiration for even better music.
The last we heard was that a few of you had relocated to Delhi.
We have been operating out of Kohima, Delhi and Mumbai and wherever life took us but during the Pandemic, we were holed up at home with our parents in Kohima. Now, things are slowly opening and getting back to normalcy so we will figure out again where best to operate out of. Travel is also easier now as NE has better connectivity now compared to five years ago, so probably stay closer to our folks and see how it goes.