Faced with tough times a year after making waves with his socially-relevant songs, the Odia migrant worker-turned-rapper appeals to record labels to help him spread hard-hitting truths
Rapper Dule Rocker
Fame has been a double-edged sword for Duleshwar Tandi, better known as Dule Rocker. The 26-year-old went viral in 2020 for rapping about the plight of migrant workers in raw videos made on a mobile phone in his native district, Kalahandi, in Odisha. Released when daily wage labourers—overlooked by authorities in various states—had been walking back to their hometowns, Tandi’s angry demand, ‘Sarkar, Jabab De’ (Government, answer us), moved many in the country including established musicians such as Vishal Dadlani.
Tandi has since posted 26 videos on his YouTube channel, all foregrounding societal concerns, and has more than 34,000 subscribers. ‘Telling the Truth’, which called out fake poll-time promises by ministers, and ‘No Corruption’, about the ill of graft in the country, were particularly well-received. He also put into verse the experiences of the disenfranchised, of farmers, and of Covid-19 frontline workers.
But, a year later, that recognition has failed to translate into fortune for the young artist. In fact, Tandi says it even took away the means he had to earn earlier. “I am a daily wage worker, and people think that giving me any kind of work will be below me. They think I have become famous now, that I earn a lot of money, travel abroad.” Eager not to give up on his musical aspirations, however, he wants to tide over tough times with appropriate patronage.
On April 15, he put out a tweet appealing to music labels to sign him. “Every rapper out there is signed with a record label. There are enough labels who can sign me but choose to work with those who don’t know or care about anything happening in the country. They write about random things instead,” Tandi shares in a telephone interview. “Here, I am trying to create awareness about our lives in India, and need this kind of platform that will not only help me but also help spread the message to everybody.”
Although armed with his pen and words, Dule Rocker lacks the resources to reach a larger audience. To shine in an industry where stars have the money to travel and experiment, he would like to at least have the means for better-quality videos. “Mobile phone recordings will not be able to feed me in the future. I got to know about record labels only recently. How will I know about it if I am a new artist?” Many have applauded him but few have offered hand-holding. The likes of Priyanka Chopra and Swara Bhaskar retweeted his work in the past, notes the struggling artist, but there were no helpful responses to his recent appeal.
Dule Rocker is self-made, attributing his fascination with music to his upbringing in the modest village of Borda. As a child, his only form of entertainment was performing for other children. That interest grew in college, where while studying for a BSc in Chemistry, he wrote poems for the magazine. “It was only in 2012 that my friends told me about Honey Singh and that my music sounds like his and falls in the rap genre. I have been working on it seriously since then,” says Tandi, who used to rap in Hindi earlier but switched to Sambalpuri or Western Odia over the last year. He believes “true emotion can only come out in one’s own language”. Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh is also an inspiration for the rapper, who has been looking for work in Bhubaneshwar.
In the run up to the elections in Assam and West Bengal, Tandi wrote a collection of rap songs about the existing situation in those states. “Now would be the best time to talk about that,” he says, hoping bigger platforms will help showcase his poetry. He would also like to do stage programmes in the future. A challenging platform such as YouTube will not help him earn money right now, reckons Tandi, and he cannot depend on it to “heat the water for the food”. That would mean another year or more of struggling for the young and restless rapper.