Known for his emotive singing and literate narratives, Nairobi-born singer/songwriter Ondara emerged in his adopted home of Minneapolis in 2016. Inspired by Bob Dylan, the largely self-taught Ondara paid his dues on the Minneapolis folk scene before issuing his Verve debut, the Grammy-nominated Tales of America, in 2018. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Ondara first became interested in pop and rock music at a young age listening to his parents' radio. Although he could not afford an instrument or lessons, he developed a keen love of songwriting, and by his teens had discovered classic folk artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, as well as contemporary performers like Damien Rice and Ray LaMontagne. In 2013, looking to expand his opportunities, and inspired by his love of Dylan, he moved to Minneapolis for college. There he began teaching himself to play guitar, and put his lyrics to music. He started attending open-mike nights, and posted several cover songs online. He also issued an independent EP that caught the attention of the local public radio program The Current, which put his songs into rotation. Gigs followed, including a break-out performance at The Current's birthday party at First Avenue in 2016. Signing with Verve Forecast, Ondara released his debut album, Tales of America, in 2018. Produced by Mike Viola of the Candy Butchers, the record also included contributions from Andrew Bird, Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith of Dawes, and Joey Ryan of the Milk Carton Kids. The album was nominated in the Best Americana category of the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards. Ondara had completed a more expansive sophomore album when the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 put the LP's release and further touring plans on hold. After a few weeks of uncomfortable seclusion, Ondara began writing songs that directly addressed the practical and emotional issues brought on by the pandemic, and recorded them in a simple fashion at home. Verve rush-released the results, Folk n' Roll, Vol. 1: Tales of Isolation, in August 2020.
© Matt Collar /TiVo
© Matt Collar /TiVo
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Pop - Released February 15, 2019 | Verve Forecast
Hi-Res Distinctions 4F de Télérama - Qobuzissime
The American dream is an inexhaustible subject. It is approached head-on, sideways, from behind, above and below. It is the ultimate fuel for hordes of songwriters; even when they weren’t even born in America. As is the case for J.S. Ondara. This young Kenyan, who his label calls "the link between Tracy Chapman and Michael Kiwanuka" (an easy claim but not wrong), went there to try his luck. In 2013, Ondara dropped anchor at his aunt's house in Minneapolis. Having only previously known his native Nairobi, the musician took his songs into bars, clubs and even out onto the street, equipped with only his voice and a simple acoustic guitar, perhaps in the hope of becoming a third millennium Bob Dylan. The Dylan of The Freewheelin', his favourite record; Springsteen's Nebraska also being one of his top picks... But to limit himself to cloning those giants wouldn’t be very interesting. And Tales of America avoids that. First of all, J.S. Ondara has his own voice. His plaintive tone is a little androgynous and makes him truly unique. On the instrumental side, he adds some more daring flavours with the help of the great Andrew Bird, Griffin Goldsmith from Dawes and Joey Ryan from the Milk Carton Kids duo. In a divided America and a crisis-riddled world, J. S. Ondara's songs are more than just bandages, they’re powerful balms that penetrate the skin and warm the heart. This is a Qobuzissime that we needed... © Marc Zisman/Qobuz