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Imchatsung Imchen is a visionary artist/entrepreneur who seeks inspiration in music, fashion and design to express his distinctive art of storytelling.
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Songs of our people | with the U-RA-MI-LI Project

This Article was my first #write for Morung Express #Nagaland
Published on April 17 2016

 

Our lives have mirrors that contain stories of our past, our everyday lives. It’s how we perceive and get inspired by them that transform us. There is a growing need today in the way we effectively communicate our stories, especially when our rich oral art forms have such complex nature and depth. The two days event at the prestigious NCPA Centre (National Centre for Performing Arts) titled “NCPA Living Traditions- Festival of Nagaland) recently held on 19th & 20th March 2016 was noteworthy. This year it was a collaborative effort between Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology – American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) and u-ra-mi-li Project, which focused on the Chokri Li of Chakhesang. The first day had twenty people from the village of Phek led by Vepusa Venuh, consisting of the young and old, men and women, while the second day featured the Tetseo Sisters. Both two groups spellbound the audience with their voices, poetry and conversations as splendid visuals and subtitles (Documented by the u-ra-mi-li Project in Nagaland) were interspersed adding value to the narrative at the sold-out NCPA ‘Experimental Theatre’. The U-ra-mi-li project (uramili.in), which means “Songs of our people” in Chokri, consists of Storytellers Anushka Meenakshi and Iswar Srikumar from Chennai, who out of chance landed in Phek in their quest for ‘everyday music’ five years ago. Since then there has been no looking back.

Interview with uramili

 

Anushka

 

Iswar

 

Firstly, Congratulations on the show at NCPA and thank you for curating such lovely work about Nagaland. Could you tell us something about uramili and how the show came about with the artists and AIIS?

 

“Well, the NCPA does a show every year called the Living Traditions. The scope of this show is to present a little more in-depth introduction to a form of music to their audience. This programme is not like a regular concert. Here the work is curated and presented with more research material from one particular area. Shubha Chaudhri from the Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology in Gurgaon (Part of AIIS) has been working closely with them for a few years now. She has done a lot of field work in Rajasthan, Kutch, and Goa. They in fact did festivals from all these regions in earlier years. So when they were planning what next, Shubha suggested to the NCPA that they get in touch with us as we had been filming with the Tetseo Sisters and in Phek village since late 2011.”

 

Tetseo Sisters during the performance in Living Traditions, Festival of Nagaland at Experimental Theatre, NCPA on 19/03/2016. Photography: Narendra Dangiya

 

 

 

It was refreshing to witness the focus on Li of Chakhesang, could you tell us about your understanding of Li, and the scope of folk music of Nagaland, especially when it comes to presenting it to a wider audience?

Artists from Phek Village during the performance in Living Traditions Festival of Nagaland at Experimental Theatre, NCPA on 19/03/2016. Photography: Narendra Dangiya

Li as a form of music is very unusual. It’s a polyphonic form, and as a form itself it is very rare in folk music in India. We fell in love with the music the first time we heard it in 2011. It sounded almost as if everyone was singing their own song but somehow all the voices were coming together to form a larger song. Nagaland is undoubtedly one of the most musically rich spaces in the whole country. The music is everywhere, and the music is not just restricted to performers but belongs to the people. It is u-ra-mi-li. We also feel the variety of music is mind boggling. The various forms, the gospel, the western influence, all of this give musicians from Nagaland quite an edge. These can be performed separately or also can help create a new voice, kind of like what the Tetseo Sisters are doing now by bringing together all their musical influences to create a rather unique sound.

 

Your video visuals were breathtaking. I have never seen something so seamlessly photographed. How long have you been documenting in Nagaland? If you could shed light on any interesting challenges faced or lessons learnt in the process?

 

“Thanks for that. We have been filming since late 2011. We usually come back during busy farming seasons as our major interest has been in the songs that people sing outside of a performance space. The music in the paddy fields is truly mesmerising. Challenges wise actually there were none. Nagaland is an extremely friendly place and we have been taken excellent care of everywhere we have gone. Our main irritation has been that we don’t speak even Nagamese, but we are starting to learn a few things at least so we can have a basic conversation with people. For two people who don’t speak the language and are so obviously out of place we have really managed to have developed a number of meaningful relationships and make Phek a very special place for us.”

 

Artists from Phek Village during the performance in Living Traditions, Festival of Nagaland at Experimental Theatre, NCPA on 19/03/2016. Photograph Credit: Narendra Dangiya

Lastly, I gather you work with different art forms from different parts of India; do you have any specific plan or project carrying forward with Li, the songs of our people?

 

“Well our full length feature film on songs of agriculture based out of Phek village is in post production now and we should have a film ready this year. We hope to send the film to various festivals and hopefully that would also help generate more interest in the music. We hope to then use that to try and organise more concerts so that this wonderful music can be shared with a much larger audience.”

 

As Day Two of Living Traditions come to close, I hear the echo of the people of Phek raising their voices in harmony, the men folk in their traditional red, white and black singing ‘Talle Li’ (Li for roaming). I am overwhelmed. The Tetseo Sisters have just ended the festival with the unforgettable ‘O Rhosi’ and backstage, us friends (Team Hiyohey) assisting them share our sigh of relief. “Do you always have to carry so much heavy jewelry, clothing and accessory when you can always simplify and carry less baggage?” I ask Mercy, the eldest of the Tetseo siblings. It is only in the Green Room when we take the opportunity for a much needed wefie that we realise that we see so many colourful pieces reflected along with the lyrical sheets- necklaces, accessories, textiles, and musical instruments from different tribes of Nagaland and beyond. The song of our people has only just begun.

 

(The writer is a Multidisciplinary Artist & Designer, who also showcased his acclaimed collection ‘Mangko Akir’ as a Gen Next designer at Lakme Fashion Week on August 2008 at NCPA, Mumbai)

 

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#1 Shillong

She waved at me, The four year old
Who had heart surgery
Across the building as I was running below
A month after she passed away
#Shillong

 

Last time around this year I met this girl
It was at a hospital
She was played with K bangsing, who was rather a well behaved boy.
She was older than the boy.
“Heart surgery” was whispered across the corridors
She would always be abrasive and rather with curt manners
Would always touch the leg or even pull the legs
Much to irk me.

I went running sometime after
Saw two small dots from across the building.
The third floor.
Soon realized it was the little boy and the girl.
I saw her waving at me.

A month after she passed away.

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thuvopisu

“Where is he?” the mother screamed. Her son went missing this early morning. Biné had taken the opportunity to sneak out of the house while his mother was humming tunes and weaving a blue woven shawl on her backstrap loom. He ran as fast as he could all alone and cleverly started catching fish from the wet paddy fields. He saw the green rice sprouts had grown taller from the last time they planted, the morning sun gleamed the still waters and highlighted the snails like beads floating along his path. His only company was the spring song that his late grandmother taught him. He was just seven years old and the boy from Thuvopisu village.” – Imchatsung Imchen, Thuvopisu [Story build on a narrative by Mercy Tetseo]

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Maternal Aunt: Azu Kiivethilii

Thuvopisu is a prominent village of the Chakhesang Tribe in Nagaland. It falls under Phek District, located about 80 kms from Kohima. I recently got an opportunity to travel with the Tetseo family who belong to this mystical village. The village holds prominence for its ideal location and served as a strategic route for the Japanese during the Second World War. Also known for its organic garlic farming and exports, every household of the village (and about six surrounding villages) obtains drinking water supply from the magical Dzüdü Lake.

 

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The Chakhesang tribe of Nagaland are known for their musical expertise and the Tetseo family are a testament to that. The family consist of the parents, four sisters (Mercy, Azi, Lulu & Kuku) and a brother (Mhaseve). The four sisters are collectively known as the Tetseo Sisters and the brother Mhaseve is an exceptional independent musician and sound engineer.

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Mhaseve Tetseo

Letters from Thuvopisu is a photo essay tribute inspired by a track ‘cepho celho’ from the first album of the Tetseo Sisters. The song narrates the reminiscence of youth and the seasons of change. The lyrics of the song are included in the images, which were captured during the shooting of an experimental ‘cepho celho’ video releasing very soon. All the woven pieces worn by the siblings in these photos were made by the mother of the family.  

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Mother
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Maternal Aunts: Azu Kiivethilii and Azu Kiidupralii
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Letter to Azi
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Lulu

 

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Mercy
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Kuku
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Mercy, Kuku, Lulu
You can find info on Thuvopisu, the Tetseo Sisters, their music and stories on this link
 
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spring’s refrain: a song for péro

spring’s refrain: a song for péro


one summer’s noon,
three sisters from far far east 
made a visit to the forbidden garden

plants they brightened
made them blue with their songs.

one summer’s noon,
three sisters painted a memory
made a mountain of the building
 
clothes they wore with ease
my favourite summer’s best from péro.



spring-summer 2013 péro by aneeth arora with the tetseo sisters

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Lakme Fashion Week spring-summer 2010

Working with the beautiful textiles from his state Nagaland, Imcha Imchen’s collection called “How Many Stories do you Read on my Face” was a very creative and impressive line of men’s and women’s wear. Organic cottons and silks with vegetable dyes were the basis of the line in white and black with hints of block prints and basket weaves.

Woven jackets, pleated shirts, layered kurta, draped dress in Chanderi, double layered tops, indigo dyed vest and loin inspired wrap around with a mul shirt, a bias bundi and a pleated waist coat were some of the striking creations. The innovative accessories like the fabric shoes, armlets, bangles all developed in Nagaland were the perfect additions to the collection.

Inspired by many of the tribal attire of his state, Imcha worked the look into modern garments very cleverly but at the same time allowed the outfits to make definite tribal fashion statements. Here was a very compact collection with a very strong identity.

 

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