Music is food for the soul, so they say – and the Nagas are no doubt among the lucky ones who are blessed and with an innate and exceptional talent in this field. There’s a musician in almost every household in this part of the country but talent alone does not guarantee success; it needs to be backed sufficiently with persistence and a strong entrepreneurial drive to create a successful music career. Today we chat with one such lady who has all qualities that can potentially carve an enthralling musical career.
Say hi to Jaremdi Wati Longchar from Nagaland, a seasoned pianist, who is working passionately towards a career in ethnomusicology.
Hi Jaremdi, tell us something about yourself- your background and your musical journey
Hi, I am 29 years old and I am currently based in Dimapur. However, I’ve lived half of my life in Kohima as well, so, I consider myself both a Dimapur and a Kohima girl.I am currently working towards building a career in ethnomusicology, which is basically the study of music in its social and cultural context.
So you will find me spending a lot of time on my music. I also read a lot of books and journal articles on folk music cultures from around the world. I love researching and analyzing folk songs from various social and cultural constructs, which is also a part of my preparation for my masters.
That’s lovely! What initially sparked your interest in this field?
Well, growing up, I always had a fascination for Naga folk music. Our folk songs and dances captivated me. Isn’t it just amazing and unique? Today I am in a happy place where I get to work on my passion full time, but it wasn’t so straightforward to come to this point. Many would agree that music careers in our state used to be so limited back then. So, I thought my best option was to be a pianist, where I can hope to have a comparatively safe career as a musician and a music teacher.
So I went to study my BMus at Bangor University (North Wales). That’s where I realized that I could actually study to be an ethnomusicologist. I went from being a piano major to ethnomusicology major in my third year. It was an exciting new path for me and I love how my world of music opened up so much there. Today, I can proudly say that this is my whole life. I love what I do and I want to keep doing this for as long as I can.
How would you define your creative philosophy, and how have your roots influenced your journey?
I love how in every field work that I have carried so far (I wrote two dissertations on AO folk music during my BMus), I feel more and more connected to my roots (Ao Naga Identity) through the songs and stories that I heard from older folk musicians.
“I want others to feel the same kind of enlightenment and appreciation for folk stories and ancient art through my works. So I always try to create work that connects people with themselves, and their roots – to create work that allows people to see the beauty in their own Identity.”
What keeps you going? What are your main sources of motivation to keep pursuing this art form?
The fact that we Nagas do not have a written history and that we have lost and are losing folk musicians who hold a wealth of knowledge about our past music tradition is what inspires me the most in my ethnomusicological work. It motivates me to keep working to preserve and document our old folk songs and the stories behind them before they disappear completely. Nagas are so quick to embrace trends from the West that we are slowly losing touch with our tradition and roots.
“What motivates me is to work on preserving and documenting our ancient Naga folksongs and the stories behind them before they disappear completely. Nagas are so quick to embrace trends from the West that we are slowly losing touch with our tradition and roots. I want our Naga people (and others) to start appreciating our folk music and to do that, we have to understand where the music stems from. Take time to get acquainted with your culture. You’ll discover a lot of beautiful things.”
What I want people to take away from the music that I produce through my work(I have a couple of my folk fusion songs hidden away!!)is to embrace your own unique culture no matter where you’re from. I also want our Naga people to start appreciating our folk music and to do that, we have to understand where the music stems from. Take time to get acquainted with your culture. You’ll discover a lot of beautiful things.
Can you single out a performance/memory from your work which you are particularly proud of?
In terms of being a pianist/musician, one memory that I am proud of is when I had the opportunity to perform with English percussionist Ged Lynch (who has worked with Sting, Peter Gabriel, to name a few)for a film and music festival in the School of Music at Bangor University. I was among the three music students selected by my Fusion Ensemble lecturer to perform a full set of original and improvised songs along with his jazz fusion band. It was one of the best moments for me as a musician.
“I had the opportunity to perform with English percussionist Ged Lynch (who has worked with Sting, Peter Gabriel, to name a few)for a film and music festival in the School of Music at Bangor University. I was among the three music students selected by my Fusion Ensemble lecturer to perform a full set of original and improvised songs along with his jazz fusion band. It was one of the best moments for me as a musician.”
As an ethnomusicologist, it was when I saw my final year dissertation in my hands, all printed and bound. Right in front of me was my work – 13,000 words on the organology of indigenous Ao instruments, which took so much of my time, energy, sweat, and tears(is it even a dissertation if there are no tears?!)I still have a long way to go but I will always cherish this first real piece of writing that I did.
What are the projects that you are working on?
I am currently studying in preparation for my masters. I will be going to Mokokchung (native town of the AO Naga tribe) in June in order to visit several Ao villages for fieldwork. And come September, I will be off to London to start my Masters in Ethnomusicology!
You also have a great sense of style! How do you incorporate your work & creative philosophies into your exterior appearance?
I don’t know if I consciously do that. My work involves meeting and interacting with people who live very simple lives in villages. I love how content they are to live in simplicity and I want to incorporate that into my life as well. So with that in mind, I do like to keep my style simple and minimalistic. Nothing over the top. I rarely follow trends. For me, comfort is key.
“I also like to wear traditional jewelry and clothes with traditional designs to represent the little Naga girl in me!”
We wish Jaremdi all the luck and best wishes in her future endeavors. She will be pursuing her Masters from Goldsmiths, University of London.
This is Jaremdi playing a piece by Franz Schubert
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