Known for his emotive singing and literate narratives, Nairobi-born singer/songwriter J.S. Ondara emerged in his adopted home of Minneapolis, Minnesota around 2016. Inspired by Bob Dylan, the largely self-taught Ondara paid his dues on the Minneapolis folk-scene before issuing his Verve debut, 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 for 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, Minnesota for college. There, he began teaching himself to play guitar, and put his lyrics to music. He began 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 album also included contributions by Andrew Bird, Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith of Dawes, and Joey Ryan of the Milk Carton Kids. ~ Matt Collar