Through storytelling and folk music, the Tetseo Sisters take Nagaland to the world

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“O Rhosi! Have you seen the Rhosi! We all have a shot, a shot at living great lives. Like the Rhosi flower, Oh like the Rhosi…” will look energetic and folksy from Tetseo sisters, a quartet of sisters from Nagaland. ‘Rhosi’ is a wildflower found in the Phek district of Nagaland and represents youth, energy and enthusiasm.

Belonging to the Chakhesang tribe, a major Naga ethnic group, the Tetseo sisters include Mercy, Azine (Azi), Kuvelü (Kuku) and Alüne (Lulu).

They grew up in Kohima, the capital of Nagaland.

Chakhesangs have a unique culture and are famous for celebrating various festivals. And Chokri is one of the three languages ​​spoken by the Chakhesang community.

“Children these days speak English, French, Korean and probably another language, but are rarely interested in learning vernacular dialects. Our mom and dad really made the effort to encourage us to speak our dialect, and they thought it was a really good idea to learn it through songs,” Mercy explains, in a conversation with His history.

Tetseo Sisters Mercy, Azi, Lulu and Kuvelü performing at the Hornbill Festival

It’s all in the family

The parents of the Tetseo sisters familiarized their daughters and their son Mhaseve very early on with Li, the traditional songs of their region of origin.

“We used to play in church form, in school and in different functions and so on. And eventually, we started playing together as a band. It was probably in 1994 when we all first played together as a band and when Lulu was still very young. We didn’t even have a name back then,” recalls Mercy, 40, who also works as a content creator and recently moved to Mumbai.

The group officially debuted with an album titled Li Chapter One: The Beginning at the Hornbill Festival in 2011, when not only the sisters, but even their brother Mhaseve and their parents performed on stage.

“It was like that throughout our childhood, different combinations of all of us. Sometimes the four of us, the sisters, are together and other times we also play in pairs or threes. There were times when even one person showed up on behalf of the sisters, or when we had events on the same day, and we had to go our separate ways,” Mercy explains.

After this first official debut, the sisters took to YouTube to showcase their songs and culture through their own channel, and thank the social media platform for allowing them to bring back the essence of the Chokri language through their video clips.

Tetseo sisters

The Tetseo sisters with their mother. The youngest of the siblings, Lulu, was just a toddler when they started playing.

The siblings never had any formal training in music. Mercy says they went through church choir practice, learned to read music and performed at local events.

“Nagaland is a very musical place. Everyone sings, if not formally, or professionally, at least, you know, in church, or at home, or in social circles. And one in two people can play a musical instrument,” she says.

However, the sisters felt that there were very few people who performed folk music and cared about folk as a genre.

“We have collaborated with many artists, both from the Northeast and from outside. One of our very popular singles is a song called As We Go, which is a fusion with a musician from Bombay, Pandit Naviin Gandharv,” Mercy adds.

Released in 2018, the song, inspired by traditional Ao folk, has been turned into a ballad with English lyrics. It is a reflection of the journey of Nagaland and its people through many years of struggle.

The video was shot along the Manali-Leh road, as the sisters made a three-week journey through Jispa, Sarchu, the plains of Moore, Leh, the Nubra Valley, Turtuk and Pangong Tso. The song also has glimpses of Kohima, Nagaland and Mumbai.

“Naviin is the only musician in the world to play an instrument called the Belabaharr, which combines the sarangi with the violin at the same time. It plays like a fiddle but it sounds like the sarangi,” Mercy explains.

She says that although the group has become popular by playing traditional folk, especially Chokri Li, as artists they don’t want to fit into any particular genre. “At most, we can call ourselves vision artists, because it’s something we’ve dabbled in,” Mercy says.

The group has received numerous awards, including the Trail Blazer Award at the 4th Nagaland Music Awards in 2012 and the Eastern Panorama Achievers Award for Excellence in Music in 2014, the North East Young Hero Award 2020 in Music and Entertainment, and the Thüvopisümi Global Excellence Awards 2021 among others.

Recently, the sisters (except Azi, who had a baby in April) had the opportunity to perform at the 2022 Ladakh International Music Festival with their brother Mhaseve. Calling it wonderful to perform in the hills, Mercy says the idea of ​​festivals really isn’t new to the band.

Tetseo sisters

At the Ladakh International Music Festival 2022

“We went to most of the festivals before they really got popular. We played NH7 in 2014. We also played Summer Storm Festival in Bangalore. We mostly performed at cultural festivals, I think they were before all these music festivals became a thing,” she adds.

Music as a connecting factor

The Tetseo siblings may all be at different stages of their lives now, but music unites them.

“Azi is a full time housewife, at the moment she just had a baby in April. My brother is a full time music producer and plays music with a few bands. Kuku is a style blogger lifestyle and a beauty influencer who has her own channel on YouTube, and Lulu has completed her MBBS and is now doing her bonding service,” Mercy explains.

“Music keeps us together despite our different interests and everything. Living in different cities, we meet a few days before a concert or, rehearse online. It’s funny how people never understood this concept before the pandemic, but now everyone does,” Mercy says.

What future for the group? “We have a bunch of corporate events coming up. Before the pandemic hit, we were doing a lot of school visits, and we had this wonderful opportunity to talk about what the North East is about – the culture, the food. It’s a way of introducing people to something not easily found in books or curriculums – through music! Mercy sign.

(This story has been updated with an additional quote from the Tetseo Sisters)

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