Music of Nagaland

Nagaland is a vibrant hill state located in the extreme North Eastern End of India, bound by Myanmar in the East; Assam in the West; Arunachal Pradesh and a part of Assam in the North with Manipur in the south. It is renowned for its rich cultural heritage. The State is inhabited by 16 major tribes along with other sub-tribes. Each tribe is distinct in character in terms of customs, language and dress. It is a land of folklore passed down the generations through word of mouth. Here, music is an integral part of life. One can listen to most of fine tuned songs and music organically produced in Nagaland on indihut, and HIYOMUSIC Mobile App; the only music streaming app found in the state.

Music of India
A Lady Playing the Tanpura, ca. 1735.jpg
A Lady Playing the Tanpura, c. 1735 (Rajasthan)


Media and performance
Music awards
Music festivals
Music media
Nationalistic and patriotic songs
National anthemJana Gana Mana
Regional music

Folk musicEdit

The oral tradition is kept alive from the media of folk tales and songs. Naga folk songs are both romantic and historical, with songs narrating entire stories of famous ancestors and incidents. There are also seasonal songs which describe various activities done in a particular agricultural season.[1] The themes of the folk music and songs are many; songs eulogizing ancestors, the brave deeds of warriors and traditional heroes; and poetic love songs immortalizing ancient tragic love stories.[2] The tribes living in the remote corners of Nagaland have their inherent tradition of music. Since there are various tribal communities in Nagaland, the music of the state also expresses the melodious diversity.

Nagaland music in itself is an awe-inspiring cultural heritage of the state. Some popular Zeliang folk songs are: Heliamleu[3] , Hereileu[4] , Neuleu[5] and Hekialeu.[6]

Indigenous instrumentsEdit

There are several rhythmic instruments that aptly accompany the Nagaland music. The area's folk music is dominated by string instruments like the Tati (single string fiddle) and Theku among the Chakhesangs and Angami Nagas, Asem (drum with animal skin masked upon carved wood) and Jemji (Horn made using mithun horn). Indigenous musical instruments extensively used by the people are bamboo mouth organs, cup violins, bamboo flutes, trumpets, drums made of cattle skin, and log drums.[7] Each tribe has unique traditional instruments influenced by their customs and materials available.


Music is also accompanied with the dance. Most of the dances are performed in groups. The most artistic dance of the state is the Zeliang dance. Strangely it is the monopoly of men, except in Zeliang tribe where women join with their men folk in dancing. Most of the dances are performed by clapping and chanting of some formulae. The beauty of the dances is raised by the colourful costumes. Dance is a very important part of life in rural Nagaland.[8]

Folk dances of Nagaland are performed mainly in a synchronized manner in groups by women as well as men, based on the kind of dance. Dances are generally performed in religious and festive occasions. Mainly the Naga men perform war dances. This dance is martial and athletic in style. All the folk dances of Nagaland are performed along with war cries and songs by the dancers. There are several folk dances in Nagaland which are generally performed at the time of harvest. The folk dances are filled with frolic and fun since these dances are performed when the people are enjoying a special event. Each Naga tribe has its own dance, but they have a common feature. All the folk dances of Nagaland require the using of legs while keeping the body in an upright position.

War Dance is the most famous dance of the state. It involves a great deal of expertise as the performers go through dangerous war motions. Even a little bit of carelessness can prove highly dangerous. Nagas never perform individually, they always dance in a group. The dancers wear colorful and graceful dresses which add more charm to the dance. The dresses of the dancers resemble the costumes of the warriors. The dancers also hold silver, brass and iron ornaments to make the performance more interesting.

The Naga dance generally includes erect postures with unbent knees. Complex leg movements and simple hand movements are the characteristics of the dance. Some of the dances have been named according to the dance steps, resembling with the birds, insects or animals. For instance Nruirolians (cock dance), resembles the trait of a cock.[9] No musical instrument is used in any folk dance of Nagaland.

Folk Dance of Zeliang TribeEdit

It is noticed in a majority of the cases that the folk dances of Nagaland are performed by males. However, the Zeliang tribe of Nagaland permits their women to take part in the folk dances with men. During a performance, the participants start entering slowly into the stage or arena with some distinctive movements and stand making a circle or other geometrical shape. After that, the dancers adjust the beats and then start dancing by stamping the foot on a continuous pace. The dances of this tribe are interspersed by chanting some set words in chorus and the clapping of hands. These shouting and chanting provides inspiration to every member of the group.

After forming a circle, the dances make attack on the opposite party or an imaginary enemy with the spears which they hold in their hands. They swing these weapons as per the rhythm of dance, in order to create a beautiful musical background. The Nagas dress themselves in ceremonial war-type costume and brass and silver ornaments and other ornaments made of iron in order to beautify their look in the dance. As a result of the regional differences, some changes of very small quantity are observed in the pattern of dance. In general, this dance involves the upright body position at upper part, while the unbent or straight knees always keep equilibrium of movements. After attaining the climax, again the tempo is brought down and it is thus accompanied by a great increase in shouts, calls and cries.

Modern musicEdit

Two distinct genres of music exist in Nagaland:

Both types have their own distinct platforms, but their audience is by and large the same. In Nagaland, the platform for choral music is created by the church during conferences and crusades (special numbers, praise and worship etc.). Exclusive gospel concerts are also initiated by local churches, theological institutions or concerned individuals. Naga Choirs travel not only to places outside the state but also to foreign countries in order to perform for various world audiences. Many Naga musicians adopt traditional and folk tunes to lend a distinctive individuality to their music. Two prominent groups adopting traditional folk tunes into their music are: The Tetseo Sisters and Cultural Vibrants.[10] Tribal tunes have also been incorporated into choral pieces and sung by many church choirs.

A notable church musician, the late [[Neiliezh� �sou|Rev. Dr. Neiliezh� �sou]], has extensively researched on Naga indigenous music from 1981 to 1984 and published a booklet and also produced an audio cassette in 1985 with an aim to bring the Naga tribes closer through spiritual unity. Church music plays a very important role in the state as it has proved to be the starting platform for nearly all individuals and groups. Quite a handful of Nagas are trained in church and classical music in prestigious schools abroad, i.e. the United States, Philippines, and Singapore etc.[11] The School of Music, Kohima started in 1969 is the first and the oldest Government recognized institute for music studies in Nagaland and has been instrumental in producing many amateur musicians in the state. Some music schools established recently are The Institute For Music Education, Dimapur, Furtados School of Music, Dimapur, Hope Centre for Excellence, Dimapur and Symphony School of Music, Kohima.

As for the rock/pop genre, platforms in terms of concerts and rock festivals are created generally by the concerned music fraternity themselves. The state has produced Internationally acclaimed Bands like "Abiogenesis" [12] and "Alobo Naga & the Band".[13] The latter has been nominated for the MTV Europe Music Awards 2012 for their hit debut single Painted Dreams.[14] This song has been ranked fourth at Cherokee America (India) presents VH1 Top 10 (for the week) on 17 September competing with artists like Maroon 5, Lady Gaga and Jay-Z etc.[15]

There are several long-running modern bands, such as The Great Society, Phynyx, Graffiti, Squadron and the 4th NAP Jazz Band, the official band of the Battalion of Nagaland Armed Police. Some notable present day bands are- Black Rose,[16] Divine Connection (DC),[17] Eximious,[18] Original Fire Factor (OFF), Diatribe and Daughty Growthy.[19]

Music as a subjectEdit

Realizing the importance of music in Nagaland and the interest shown by the Naga youngsters, the Nagaland Board of School Education (NBSE)[20] introduced music as a subject in the High School and Higher Secondary curriculum recently. The aim is to make music a formal subject and accessible to all.

Task Force For Music & ArtsEdit

The Task Force For Music & Arts of Nagaland is a recent phenomenon. It was created by the Government to encourage Naga musicians to take up music as a profession rather than a hobby. Music is an integral part of the life of the Nagas and is now being developed as an industry that generates employment.[21] Nagaland is the first state in India to have introduced music as an industry.[22]

Hornbill National Rock ContestEdit

The Government, and most specifically with the initiative of Member Of Legislative Assembly, Shri. Neiphiu Rio, started the Hornbill National Rock Contest which is an integral event of the Hornbill Festival. The Hornbill National Rock Contest, as the name suggests, is a National-level contest and boasts of being the longest music festival in the country, it being a seven-day-long festival. Attractive cash prizes and music educated/music loving crowd makes the Hornbill National Rock Contest/Festival a unique experience for performers.[23] The winning prize of 10,00,000 (10 lakh of rupees) is considered to be one of the highest in the country.[24]


The seven-day-long extravaganza is in keeping with the essence of the many Naga festivals; marked by feasts, dances, games and music, all in full measure. These celebrations invariably coincide with agricultural lean periods such as after-harvest, and therefore the feeling of gaiety and generosity, even to a fault. In the old days the rich used to host several-day-long feasts in which the villagers reveled, and guests from other villages were feted. These were times when the youth were pitted against each other in friendly competitions in performing arts and traditional sports, while the old proudly looked on.

Circumstances have changed; some have moved on while a few still embraces the old ways. Nevertheless, in either case the joie de vivre of the Nagas lives on. The annual Hornbill Festival, and therefore the Hornbill National Rock Contest/Festival, is set in this background. In time, the event hopes to go international.[25]

Music awardsEdit

Music Video Awards of NagalandEdit

Native Trax Network, a group of musicians and people dedicated promoting the music of Nagaland have instituted the Music Video Awards of Nagaland in 2009 with the aim of finding the best original music videos recorded within Nagaland so as to showcase and promote the talents of local singers and musicians beyond the state as well. Videos of nominees are hosted on the MVAN website.

Rev. Dr. Neiliezh� �sou Memorial Award for MusicEdit

This award is named after the late [[Neiliezh� �sou|Rev. Dr. Neiliezh� �sou]] for his tremendous contribution to the growth of music in Nagaland. It was instituted in 2009 and is an annual recognition given to the HSLC subject topper in Music under Nagaland Board of School Education (NBSE). The award is given by the Rev. Dr. Neiliezh� �sou Memorial Society and approved by the NBSE. It carries a citation and cash money of 15,000 (fifteen thousand Indian Rupees).[26]


  1. ^ Shikhu, Inato Yekheto. A Re-discovery and Re-building of Naga Cultural Values: An Analytical Approach with Special Reference to Maori as a Colonized and Minority Group of People in New Zealand (Daya Books, 2007) p 210
  2. ^ Nagaland music- Rattle and Hum Music Society Archived 2011-08-23 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Heliamleu Archived 2012-10-10 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Hereileu Archived 2012-10-10 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Neuleu Archived 2012-10-10 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Hekialeu Archived 2012-10-10 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Mongro, Kajen & Ao, A Lanunungsang. Naga cultural attires and musical instruments (Concept Publishing Company, 1999), ISBN 81-7022-793-3
  8. ^ Dance and Music
  9. ^ Nagaland dance
  10. ^ Tetseo sisters and Cultural Vibrants Archived 2011-08-14 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ genres of music in Nagaland Archived 2009-06-24 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Abiogenesis official website
  13. ^ Alobo Naga & the Band official website
  14. ^ Naga band video nominated for MTV Europe music awards Archived 2013-01-29 at
  15. ^ Alobo Naga & the Band ranks fourth in Vh1 Top 10 list
  16. ^ Azha Usou of Black Rose
  17. ^ DC profile
  18. ^ Eximious profile Archived 2009-06-13 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Daughty Growthy The loudest band in the muddiest ground
  20. ^ NBSE official website
  21. ^
  22. ^ Dr. Niky Kire talks of Nagaland music industry Archived 2011-07-22 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^
  24. ^ Hornbill Rock Contest prize details
  25. ^ Archived 2010-12-18 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Awards for HSLC and HSSLC rank holders Disclosures Under Sec 4 of Right to Information Act 2005: Nagaland Board Of School Education 02-07-2010

External linksEdit