Striving towards perfection for musical excellence against all odds and with a vision to promote unity and oneness to do away with tribalism, which could in turn present the identity of Nagas as one, D. Atso Chasie invented a new instrument called the Gei-ü, a three stringed instrument in the year 2014. Feeling the need and importance to present Naga identity to the other world, inspired him to invent the Gei-ü instrument. “Nagas are music lovers where we are greatly influenced by western culture and also musical instruments. Every family has a student that opts for western music, so why not develop our own music and instruments too” he said.
A determined and hard working professional classical guitarist hailing from Khonoma Village,Nagaland, D. Atso Chasie is a Research fellow awardees on traditional Naga folk music and instruments, under Government of India, for preserving and re -igniting the traditional folk music and instruments and adding value to them in this modernized world.
Considering the need for cultural traditions to evolve with changing times and aiming to uplift the value of cultural identity and traditional music of the Nagas, the three stringed indigenous folk instrument was created by Atso. According to him this three stringed instrument is a more refined version of the traditional musical instruments used by Nagas, and it can blend in with both traditional and contemporary tunes.
Being a classical guitar performer and having traveled to few countries, the significance to provide one’s own identity struck him. “That was how I began to focus on the Gei-ii” he said. Despite adverse situation and beyond, he has impacted and inspired many musicians of similar origin to aspire and dream for their goals through his various state, national and international achievements and participations.
Five times state level winner who took Master classes from Andres Csaki, Pavel SteidI, Denis Azabagic, David Russell, Christian Lavernier, Laurent Boutros, Joey woch, Paul cesarczyk and Pirai Vaca, Atso worked on the instrument for almost four years with the assistance of a fellowship he received in 2014 under the Centre for Cultural Research and Training. The Gei-ü could finally be presented at the Global Youth Peace Fest 2017 where he performed along with a Japanese artist. Among the variety of traditional Naga Musical instruments that are on the verge of extinction in the contemporary context, the Gei-ü emerged with an effort to carry on with the world and at the same time keeping our identity intact.
According to him, the base of the instrument itself is an assemblage of a number of our age old instruments. The instrument has been created with flexibility to suit the wants and needs of the user, i.e. two bow strings and one plucking string. “It is an instrument that has been improved for those all culturally conscious musicians willing to explore. It is an instrument that is not confined to only few tribes but the Nagas as a whole and that which is presentable and risk worthy in the global arena,” stated
Atso pioneered in representing western classical guitar from Nagaland, attended master classes from world renowned musicians such as Grammy Award winner David Russell. He is also one of the first Naga classical guitarists to be certified Associate Trinity College, London (ATCL) 2009 in India and to win positions at the international competitions.
To promote the Gei-ü instrument, Atso has performed in various event like at the Global youth peace fest, Chandigarh, 2017, Hornbill Festival and also collaborated with Natalie De Luccio , International Artist, 2017. Moreover a documentary was shot on Gei-ü, by the purple bull production and Gaonwala creation, 2018. He still continues to promote the importance of Naga cultural instruments and music through performances and seminars even at the village level.
Naga Traditional musical instrument in transition through Contemporary times
The Gei-ü is an improvised three-stringed bowed musical instrument with its resonant base either carved out of bison horn or bamboo or covered with animal hide. The name ‘Gei’ is derived from Tenyidie which means ‘to saw’ and ü which means tone or sound. The Gei-ü originally evolved from traditional bowed string instruments like the Tati and the Nraübu used by the Angami tribe, Marok Kongki by Ao’s and the Gongkih Lahha by Konyak and Phom tribes. Being a very versatile instrument, Gei-ü is used both in traditional and contemporary music arrangements.
The Tati is a one stringed traditional musical instrument, Tati is a one stringed plucked instrument mostly used to accompany various romantic traditional songs. The Tati is an instrument of both men and women not limited to a particular time or song. It is popularly used by the Angami Nagas and Chakesang Nagas to sing traditional folk. The instrument measuring about 3-4 foot in length is made of a dried caved- out Bottle Gourd. This Bottle Gourd is covered with thin film, such as the bladder of animals (originally) and attached to one end of a pole. A string is tied between the two ends of the pole over the film covered caved Bottle Gourd. It has only two musical notes, DO and SO or so’ and do’ (octave).The rhythm of the Tati is usually in ¾ time. When a musician plays the instrument, he uses his right hand to pluck the string and the left hand to mute or adjust the tension of the vibrating string.
Like all other stringed instruments, the Tati produces sound by the vibration of the string and the sound is enlarged by the resonance of the plate fitted at the top. To raise or lower note of the Tati, the player can adjust the pitch of the string by increasing or decreasing the tension of the strings.
Unlike the guitar or other stringed instruments, the Tati cannot produce loud sounds. Despite its limited notes the Tati produces a very unique sound, it is mainly designed to harmonise and to maintain a sense of rhythm to a song. Many a times it is also used as a decorative piece to hold during a performance.
There are two fixed points of each string. The mechanical wave which is generated by the Pluck of the hand will be reflected at these fixed points. The overlap of the reflected wave and the progressive wave causes the vibration of the air and therefore produces the sound. Because the Tati is designed mainly to produce a harmony of rhythm to a song, the resonating box is selected randomly, regardless of its shape or size.
The Nraübu stands for a gentleman and forbids Women to even touch it. A smaller instrument shaped like the Naga Tati, around 1half feet in length, which the player uses a bow. According to folklores, ‘the strings are stolen or obtained from the back of a running horse.’ Through the friction of the bow and the string, a sharp piercing sound is produced. The Nraübu has a wider range of notes and needs.
Marok Kongki is one of the musical instruments popularly used by the Ao Naga tribe. The instrument, believed to be originated from Longkhum Village under Mokokchung district of Nagaland. The Marok Kongki is made from a good quality of hard and thin bamboo, precisely selected by an experienced luthier, with its length varying from two to two and a half feet long.
Sometimes a shell of bitter gourd that is of feet long with the circumference of 25cm is used for the sound resonator. The top of the cup is covered with bamboo shells. Besides this a bow is required to play. To make the bow, half an inch in width and about a foot long of a thin bamboo is required. Secondly, a bamboo fiber is thinned down with the help of a sharp dao. This fiber is then tied at one end of the stick and is cleaned or rosined with charcoal. The strings are finely made from a long maiden’s hair.
As per the oral tradition, it is said that man learnt the method of playing this instrument from the crab when its ten fingers moved one after another. Out of this movement, man learnt how to use his fingers playing the Marok Kongki. Both men and women can play this instrument without any restriction; it is played mainly at mid night.
The Gongkih Lahha plays a vital instrument of accompaniment to the Konyak tribe and the Phom tribe under Longleng district of Nagaland.This instrument can be played by both genders at anytime, be it joy,sympathy, sadness or even at leisure hour.