J.S. ONDARA | chronicle
Coming all the way from Naibori, Kenya, to Minneapolis, Minnesota after winning a green card lottery, singer and songwriter J.S. Ondara is one of the new artists to watch in 2019. The self-taught African guitarist first caught the attention of Andrea Swensson, a DJ at Minnesota Public Radio station The Current, during one of his numerous open mic shows around the twin city. He then earned a major-label deal with Verve Forecast to work on an album of original material. The result is Tales of America, the 26 year-old compelling perspective on what it feels like to live in America in the 21st century.
With his rich voice and shivering falsetto, Ondara wears his heart upon his sleeve. On Torch Song, Saying Goodbye and Give me a Moment, he deals with themes of lost love and broken hearts. Mostly accompanied on acoustic guitars, both the music and lyrics command attention. Even on the more political songs, the emotion is genuine. American Dream and God Bless America book end the album, both deep reflections on modern-day America immigration and the gap that exists between the American promise and its reality (“will you let me in or are you at capacity? He sings on the final cut, one of the few tracks where his accent really stands out).
It’s an outside-looking-in perspective on what the country is.
The combination of love and social justice songs keep the album captivating and the listener hooked. The pacing of the album is also noteworthy. It’s one of those rare albums that need to be listened to in one sitting, where each one provides new insight into Ondara’s voice and great songwriting. With Tales of America, J.S. Ondara delivers what is probably one of the best debut albums in its genre since Tracy Chapman back in 1988.