New Delhi: When 21-year-old independent Mizoram artiste Teddy Sailo uploaded his debut song — Ka Duh Che Chuan a Tawk (If I Like You, That’s Enough) — on YouTube in March, little did he expect it to garner 1.1 million views in just four months.
It might not mean much in the digital space where the number game is played at far higher stakes, but when you consider that it is a Mizo song and that the state of Mizoram is itself home to just over 1 million people (10.97 lakh according to the 2011 Census), it becomes worthy of taking a look at.
“It’s crazy to see Mizo music videos and songs dominating YouTube views, given the population of Mizo people,” Sailo told ThePrint.
He’s not the only one, though. States across northeastern India are producing bona fide stars. A 2018 song Kala Kala, sung in Nyishi — the language of the Nyishi tribe in Arunachal Pradesh — earned singer Chorun Mugli over 8,00,000 views in a year.
According to the 2011 Census, Nyishis number just around 3,00,000.
Videos by Jajai Singsit, a popular singer from the Kuki community in Manipur, often get thousands of views in just weeks. His cover of US country hit Don’t Cry Joni, which he performed with Manipuri singer Christina Shakum, has not only garnered a few million views but also spawned a reaction video from Indonesian YouTubers, which garnered over 54,000 views in just over a month.
Another example of Northeast’s popular music stars is the four-sister band from Nagaland — The Tetseo Sisters (Alüne Tetseo, Azi Tetseo, Kuvelü Tetseo and Mercy Tetseo). The band performs folk songs in Chokri Naga dialect within and outside the state. From their first performance as children to now, when their videos have views ranging between 39,000 and 3,00,000, they’ve come a long way and seen the change wrought by technology and social media.
“YouTube has been as helpful a tool for us as Doordarshan and AIR (All India Radio) were in our journey,” the sisters said in an emailed response to ThePrint.
Videos shed light on northeastern languages too
Novelist and classical vocalist from Assam Mitra Phukan wrote on Nezine, “This is a region where music, whether devotional, work-related (folk) or purely recreational, plays a very important part in the day-to-day lives of the people of the seven sister states here. Almost all rural homes, however humble, have a musical instrument, whether a dotara or flute. It is very common to see, in a middle-class urban abode, a harmonium or tanpura in the valleys, or a keyboard and guitar in the hills.”
The rich folk culture in the region can be gauged by the fact that every major community or tribe has its own traditional music. These folk traditions, the strong presence of churches in Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram and the turbulent socio-political history of the region as a whole have combined to give the region a distinct musical heritage.
The spectrum of music produced in northeastern languages encompasses almost every popular music genre. From rock, country music to metal and hip-hop, every state has its own artistes, who have made multitudes of songs accompanied by music videos. There are songs on social issues and tribal rights too, and many artistes use videos to shed light on their community and languages.
The Tetseo Sisters said visual storytelling is a big part of their music and videos — often shot on almost zero or shoestring budgets — which showcase the landscape and traditional clothing of Nagaland.
“The videos are experimental expressions of our own selves. We have been blessed to work with some wonderful people who have very creatively portrayed our lands and our realities in the right light. We mostly have fun exploring and shooting in places and moments that highlight who we are, where we come from and the mood of the song,” the band said.
“While we like to keep a certain mystique about our personal selves, it is great to be able to create stories through music videos and share them on social media. Through videos, we also get to share more aspects of our music, which helps us express ourselves in ways that words and sound alone cannot,” they added.
They said that many of their fans don’t even understand a single word of their music.
‘We’re singing, unnoticed by majority of the country’
Sailo, who asked his cousin one afternoon to help him compose and write songs, recalled, “I asked my cousin brother to help me write a song after our church service. It was composed on the spot. I asked my cousin to play guitar and I sang along. Then I don’t know, it just came out.”
Shot within 24 hours, the low-cost music video of Ka Duh Che Chuan a Tawk, directed by Sailo, tells the story of romance between young people, and features him as the lead.
While hailing YouTube as a platform that has given him recognition, Sailo also highlighted the limited reach of artistes from the northeast who sing in regional language. “We are still here, singing unnoticed by the majority of the country.”
As music moved to digital platforms and piracy wreaked havoc worldwide, regional industries were severely impacted.
“The music industry went haywire. The artistes didn’t get anything. This is when the company Music Domain Mizoram (MDM) was formed in 2011,” said president of the company, who goes by his stage name Dr Zoa.
The company claims to be a library of Mizo music that signs Mizo artistes and subsequently rents their music to cable channels as well uploads them on their official YouTube channel, which currently has over 1,77,000 subscribers.
“We have been able to give out as much as Rs 30 lakh over the years to artistes signed with us,” said Dr Zoa.
Sailo explained that with MDM, artistes get royalties based on rankings and views as well. “Besides that, unless we have a very strong copyright and legal approach, the market is not that feasible,” he added.
However, he added: “I do not think commercial success is the way to define success. If what you are doing is what you love and if it makes you happy, I don’t think you could be more successful and I think that is the right way to define success and YouTube is a good platform for every dreamer who are chasing their dreams.”