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J.S. Ondara, known mononymously as Ondara,[1] is a Grammy Award-nominated[2][3][4] Kenyan singer-songwriter,[5][6] whose debut album, Tales of America, was released on February 15, 2019 via Verve Forecast.[6][7] The critical success of the debut led to a follow-up deluxe edition, Tales of America: The Second Coming, in September 2019 featuring the original lineup plus five bonus tracks.[8][9]


Ondara was born in August 1992 in Nairobi, Kenya.[10][6] As a child, he wrote poems and stories[11] as well as songs despite not having an instrument to play them on because his family could not afford one.[12] He was inspired by Radiohead, Nirvana, Death Cab For Cutie, Jeff Buckley, Pearl Jam, Guns N' Roses, and Bob Dylan.[10][6][13][14][15]

Ondara grew up listening to rock songs on his older sisters’ battery-powered radio. Having discovered The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan following a dispute with a friend over whether "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" was a Guns N' Roses song, Ondara resolved to travel to the United States to pursue a career in music.[16]

In February 2013, after winning in the green card lottery,[17] Ondara moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota[10] at the age of 20.[5][18] He taught himself to play guitar[6] and perform during open mic nights. Eventually, he decided to study music therapy in college, but dropped out of school to return to playing small shows at coffee houses after attending a concert.[10][14]

Musical career

After moving to Minnesota, Ondara tried his hand at making music and performing in small venues. His big break came when Minneapolis-St. Paul radio station KCMP 89.3 The Current, located in St. Paul, played one of his songs on air by pulling audio from his YouTube channel, where he had been uploading covers of his favorite songs.[10][5][11]

Ondara's debut album, Tales of America, was released in February 2019 by Verve Label Group.[10] Despite only 11 tracks making the final tracklist, Ondara wrote more than 100 songs for the album,[15] all based on an immigrant's life in America.[10][5][7][19] The album was produced by Mike Viola of the Candy Butchers.[15][20] In support of the album, Ondara embarked on his first headlining tour in March 2019.[10][11] After the release of the album, Ondara debuted on Billboard's Emerging Artist chart at No. 37 in March 2019.[21] The album also landed on the Billboard Heatseekers Album, Americana/Folk Album Sales, and Rock Album Sales charts.[21] He was nominated for Best Emerging Act at the 2019 Americana Music Honors & Awards.[22]

Ondara cites Bob Dylan as his musical hero, which is why he chose to live in Minnesota,[11] and why he wears his signature fedora.[10][23][19]

He has toured with the Milk Carton Kids, Lindsey Buckingham and in 2019, he opened for select dates on tour with Neil Young.[11][22] In early 2020, he opened for The Lumineers on their III world tour.[24]

Ondara was nominated for 'Best Americana Album' at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards for his album, Tales of America.[2][3][4]



  • Tales of America (2019)
  • Folk N' Roll, Vol 1: Tales of Isolation (2020)
  • Spanish Villager No. 3 (2022)


TitleYearPeak chart positionsAlbum

"Lebanon"201923Tales of America


  1. ^ "Minneapolis singer Ondara releases quarantine album: 'I was just trying to give myself a little therapy'". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2020-06-11.
  2. ^ a b "J.S. Ondara: Tiny Desk Concert". NPR.org. Retrieved 2020-06-11.
  3. ^ a b "JS Ondara's Tiny Desk Concert: Watch". Billboard. 2020-01-24. Retrieved 2020-06-11.
  4. ^ a b "J.S. Ondara On Newport Folk & 'Tales Of America'". GRAMMY.com. 2019-08-14. Retrieved 2020-06-11.
  5. ^ a b c d Bernstein, Jonathan (2019-02-07). "J.S. Ondara's American Dreams". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  6. ^ a b c d e "J.S. Ondara Examines An Elusive American Dream On His Debut". national public radio. February 18, 2019. Retrieved 2019-02-19.
  7. ^ a b "Artists to Watch: 17 Alternative & Indie Breakouts For 2019". Billboard. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  8. ^ Johnson, Catalina Maria (October 17, 2019). "J.S. Ondara creates Americana imbued with the heartache of the immigrant experience". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2020-01-17.
  9. ^ Kreps, Daniel (September 7, 2019). "See J.S. Ondara Tell 'Tales of America' in U.S. Television Debut". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2020-01-17.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Chiu, David. "Kenya-raised singer-songwriter J.S. Ondara searches for America". City Pages. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  11. ^ a b c d e "Inspired by Dylan, J.S. Ondara Spreads His Own 'Tales of America'". The Bluegrass Situation. 2019-02-15. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  12. ^ "J.S. Ondara's Sound Is Extraordinary And His Story Is Even Better". NPR.org. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  13. ^ "Slingshot: The New Artists You'll Love In 2018". NPR.org. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  14. ^ a b "XPN's Gotta Hear Song of the Week: "American Dream" by J.S. Ondara". The Key. 2018-10-29. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  15. ^ a b c "Folk Alley | Album Review: J.S. Ondara, 'Tales of America'". www.folkalley.com. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  16. ^ Inspired by Bob Dylan, Kenyan folk-rocker journeyed to Minnesota to tour the world Chris Riemenschneider Star Tribune February 17, 2019. Retrieved June 28, 2019
  17. ^ Geoghegan, Kev (2019-07-23). "JS Ondara: The Kenyan rising star singing about life in Trump's America". BBC News. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  18. ^ "J.S. Ondara: Tales Of America « American Songwriter". American Songwriter. 2019-01-30. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  19. ^ a b Moss, Jim Beaugez,Jedd Ferris,Will Hodge,Brittney McKenna,Thomas Mooney,Marissa R. (2018-10-29). "10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: October 2018". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2019-07-09.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ "stream J.S. Ondara's new song "Saying Goodbye" (and watch the video)". BrooklynVegan. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  21. ^ a b "Emerging Artists Spotlight: J.S. Ondara". Billboard. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  22. ^ a b "J.S. Ondara Nominated For Best Emerging Act At 2019 Americana Music Awards". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  23. ^ "J.S. Ondara Presents a Beautifully Melancholic "Torch Song" Session [PREMIERE]". Ones to Watch. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  24. ^ "J.S. Ondara Confirms 2020 Tour Dates With The Lumineers". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 2020-06-11.
  25. ^ "Adult Alternative Songs - January 19, 2020". Billboard. Retrieved 26 January 2020.

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