Music of Nagaland

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.


Folk music

The oral tradition is kept alive through 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 of the same.

Nagaland music in itself is an awe-inspiring cultural heritage of the state. Some popular tribal songs of the state are:


Heliamleu is a popular tribal song of Nagaland. The young people as well as the old people of the state of Nagaland involve themselves in the making of the Heliamleu song. Romantic themes are generally selected for the Heliamleu song. Known as one of the oldest music forms of Nagaland music, Heliamleu boasts of a rich and vibrant heritage. Sometimes the song of Heliamleu is also accompanied by musical instruments. In other cases the song is sung by the aged and the young with their own melodious vocal chords. Since Heliamleu song is sung by the tribes of Nagaland from a very long time, hence it has become an integral part of the cultural diversity of the state. The lines and lyrics of Heliamleu song are composed with great enthusiasm by both the younger and the older generation of Nagaland.[3]


Hereileu is a special form of song of Nagaland state which is crafted and sung mostly by the senior inhabitants of the place. Being a part of the Nagaland music, Hereileu song is composed on such themes as the past deeds of the aged people of the state. The older generation of Nagaland narrate their achievements through the Hereileu song. It is basically sung by the older generation to refresh their memories about those brave battles fought in the past. This is why Hereileu is also known as War Song.

The way aged people once won a battle or lost it are generally included in the song. This type of song specially glorify the bravery of the aged people of Nagaland during their youthful days. This is also done to inspire and encourage the younger generation.[4]


Neuleu song is a special form of Nagaland music which is formed primarily by the older generation of Nagaland state. Also called as Legendary Song, Neuleu is composed mainly to narrate a certain happening that took place in Nagaland many years back. The song of Neuleu also describes the achievements of a particular person who has created a mark for himself through his outstanding performance in certain fields.

Neuleu is considered as a prime manifestation of the Nagaland music. The tribal groups inhabiting the land of Nagaland from many past centuries are quite deft in the Neuleu song. The aged people who have seen the glorious past ages of Nagaland are commonly entrusted with the job of composing the Neuleu song. They, in turn, make the song of Neuleu in such a way that the performance, deeds or a particular historical event gets the prominent focus. During the tribal festivals of Nagaland, the Neuleu song is sung by the old people of the state. The vocal melody of these people are so enigmatic that at times musical instruments become secondary.[5]


The song of Hekialeu has two variations. While one type of Hekialeu is sung only by the old people of the state, the other one is sung by both the old and young. Hekialeu song of old people in Nagaland involves the description of interesting events that took place in their youthful days. Whereas the Hekialeu song composed by both old and young includes various aspects of both the generations. Hekialeu, in a way, symbolizes the apt synchronization of the various generations of Nagaland that have a treasure house of different types of experiences.[6]

Indigenous instruments

There are several rhythmic instruments that aptly accompany the Nagaland music. The area's folk music is dominated by string instruments like the Tati among the Chakhesangs and Angami Nagas, and the Theku. 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]


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 Tribe

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 music

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 Rev. Dr. Neiliezhü Üsou, 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 and only 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 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 several long-running modern bands, such as The Great Society, Phynyx, Grafitti, 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,[12] Divine Connection (DC),[13] Eximious,[14] Abiogenesis,[15] Original Fire Factor (OFF), Diatribe and Daughty Growthy.[16]

Music as a subject

Realizing the importance of music in Nagaland and the interest shown by the Naga youngsters, the Nagaland Board of School Education (NBSE)[17] 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.

Music Task Force

The Music Task Force 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.[18] Nagaland is the first state in India to have introduced music as an industry.[19]

Hornbill National Rock Contest

The Government, and most specifically with the initiative of the Chief Minister, 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.[20] The winning prize of INR5,00,000 (5 lakh of rupees) is considered to be one of the highest in the country.[21]


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.[22]

Music Awards

Music Video Awards of Nagaland

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. Neiliezhü Üsou Memorial Award for Music

This award is named after the late Rev. Dr. Neiliezhü Üsou 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. Neiliezhü Üsou Memorial Society and approved by the NBSE. It carries a citation and cash money of INR15,000 (fifteen thousand Indian Rupees).[23]


  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
  3. ^ Heliamleu
  4. ^ Hereileu
  5. ^ Neuleu
  6. ^ Hekialeu
  7. ^ Mongro, Kajen & Ao, A Lanunungsang. Naga cultural attires and musical instruments (Concept Publishing Company, 1999), ISBN 8170227933
  8. ^ Dance and Music
  9. ^ Nagaland dance
  10. ^ Tetseo sisters and Cultural Vibrants
  11. ^ genres of music in Nagaland
  12. ^ Azha Usou of Black Rose
  13. ^ DC profile
  14. ^ Eximious profile
  15. ^ Abiogenesis official website
  16. ^ Daughty Growthy The loudest band in the muddiest ground
  17. ^ NBSE official website
  18. ^
  19. ^ Dr. Niky Kire talks of Nagaland music industry
  20. ^
  21. ^ Hornbill Rock Contest prize details
  22. ^
  23. ^ 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

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