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 May 29, 2020 | Verve Forecast
One year after the release of his debut (Qobuzissime-winning) album in February 2019, J.S. Ondara has released, in the midst of the Covid-19 (then)epidemic, the aptly named “Tales of Isolation”. Lockdown clearly hasn’t deterred this young Kenyan, described by his label as a fusion of Tracy Chapman and Michael Kiwanuka. Following along the lines of his two most beloved records, Dylan’s “The Freewheelin’” and Springsteen’s “Nebraska”, Ondara offers a collection of acoustic songs that are carried by his vibrant singing and plaintive, androgynous voice that pulls on the heart strings. In “Folk n’ Roll Vol. 1: Tales Of Isolation”, the American Dream which fascinates him so once more comes face to face with life’s struggles. And creation in itself is most moving when the artist expresses what’s closest to them. Such is the ideal fuel for the songs of a troubadour of Ondara’s calibre, who is at his most true and powerful when the skies are dark and stormy. © Max Dembo/Qobuz