We Chat With Ondara

We talk with Ondara

Ondara – Photo: LTTL


Backstage at the Port Fairy Folk Festival 2024

By Jim Jacob

By Rob Dickens

Originally from Nairobi, Kenya, Ondara moved to the USA, thanks to a Green Card visa lottery win and settled in Minnesota, following the footsteps of Bob Dylan. His first release was Tales Of America which received wide acclaim including Grammy and Americana Award nominations. The follow-up album is the more complex Spanish Villager, No: 3 (read our REVIEW). As is revealed below, he is working on a new full-length release, from a fresh location.

Listening Through The Lens: I want to ask how you got into the USA. You won the Green Card (‘permanent resident’) lottery. Do you know the odds of winning that?

Ondara: Well millions of people apply every year. I don’t know the exact mathematical fraction for it (laughs) but I think they only choose a few people.

LTTL: Was that the first time that you applied?

O: Yes, it was

LTTL: I read that you moved to Minnesota because of Bob Dylan.

O: Yes

LTTL: Do you think you found Dylan’s spirit there?

O: I think so. It’s hard to say really. I think, when you go on a pilgrimage of that sort, you can only hope that some of that spirit gets through you somehow, because you can’t actually know, just hope that you walk by it somehow it might lick inside of you accidentally (laughs).

LTTL: Where did you settle – Hibbing or another city?

O: I landed in a bigger city – Minneapolis

LTTL: Are you still there?

O: Now I’m actually in London at the moment.

LTTL: Why that move?

O: I just wanted to be somewhere different for this next chapter of my career. I spent, you know, the last decade in the US and wanted to challenge myself, getting a friend of mine to do the next record. I’m recording this next album in London and I just wanted to try something different, to see what comes out of that.

LTTL: Can we talk about your first album Tales of America? When you released it, what sort of reaction were you expecting?

O: It’s a good question. I don’t think I knew what to expect really. I just wanted to make something that felt honest and I was quite OK with however that played out, let the marketplace speak. It’s hard to know, to have any kind of expectation. You just do your best, be as honest as you can and hope that that resonates with whoever it resonates with.

LTTL: Which it did. What reaction were you most proud of? I know you received a Grammy nomination which is quite an achievement.

O: So they tell me (laughs). I was just generally quite honoured that the album resonated in the way that it did. I didn’t know what to expect and so some of it was a bit of a surprise. When you do that kind of thing, you’re just really in it, you don’t get to step back and watch people react to it because I’m inside the campaign. I am doing the next show so I’m not extremely conscious of how the public is reacting to it. I think the first time I got a sense of it was when I went back to Minneapolis after touring and people were treating me somewhat differently and it was just odd to me (laughs)

LTTL: But nice

O: Yeah, nice

LTTL: I read that when you released that album, you had hundreds of songs you didn’t use. What’s the status of those songs? Do you have a stockpile of them for possible future use?

O: They’re good songs. I like a lot of them. It’s just that they didn’t sit within the theme of the record I wanted to make. And also I can only put out a certain amount of songs, there’s a certain limit and so I write a lot of good songs that I just throw away because I can’t make a record that plays on its own. If that was a format that existed it would be very compatible with how my brain works (laughs).

LTTL: The next record was quite a change [Spanish Villager, No: 3]. Tell us about the whole Spanish Villager concept which I believe came before the record.

O: Well, the name came before the character. The name preceded the album, yes. The origin of the character or the persona was just really trying to create some kind of demarcation between me as an individual and me as the artist, some sort of commodified entity. I think as my career was growing, it took me by surprise and I found myself struggling mentally negotiating who I was and who am I as a person and who am I as this public entity and it’s sort of mentally still rising and I think to solve that, my brain created this character to be this sort of a wall and so once that character was born, I then called it the Spanish Villager.

LTTL: The music on that record seems to be quite a change in terms of more rhythm and arrangements. The first album is quite self-contained?

O: Yes

LTTL: More folk. Just you and the guitar with some embellishments, but the the next album has a lot more depth to it. Would that be a fair statement?

O: Yeah. Absolutely. I was trying to expand somehow and still retain the raw elements that resonated. To create a more expansive sound landscape. That’s the goal (laughs).

LTTL: You mentioned that you were working on some new music at the moment.

O: Yes, I’m constantly working on music. I’m in the process of trying to narrow down what the next record is because there’s all the songs – hundreds, thousands – so it’s just trying to figure out what’s the next thing that I need to say, then go to the catalogue of songs and find things that say anything I want to say.

LTTL: Do you feel like you’re approaching the stage you have enough songs that you think will fit your current creative surge, or are you still working on them?

O: I’m always working on songs, always refining them and the song is done once it’s recorded. If it’s not recorded I can still go back and work on it.

LTTL: You think that you will record this in London?

O: Yes

LTTL: Again to get a different perspective?

O: That’s right

LTTL: Do you like living in London?

O: Yeah. I like it. It’s very gloomy, it’s quite grey. Which I quite like because you have to deliberately choose to be in a good mood. You’re not going to get it from the weather. It’s not California.

LTTL: Jim and I saw you play at Americanafest 2019 at the Station Inn in Nashville. It was a great show. You’ve only just commenced this tour of Australia, which is your first so I hope you enjoy it. I think you will get a great response from Australian audiences.

O: Thank you

Ondara – Photo: LTTL



More Music Adventures Await!

We talk with Ondara


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Author: Rob Dickens

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