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MYNIYL – J. S. Ondara

My ongoing, dramatically inconsistent series of “Music You Need in Your Life” continues today with a new singer/songwriter: J. S. Ondra.

Tales of America

First, a little biography. Ondara grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, listening to Bob Dylan and other folk and rock artists from America. Around the age of 20, Ondara wins the green card lottery and moves to Minneapolis, Minnesota. He buys a guitar, learns how to play, starts writing music and now (at 26) releases his debut album: Tales of America.

Okay, now let’s talk music. Most of the album is acoustic-driven songs with a few tracks that have a backing band. Even though he has a strong tenor voice that slips into falsetto in unexpected times, you can hear the Bob Dylan influence on how he ends a few lines. That said, his vocal ability is still new, fresh and uniquely his. Side note: his style is also freaking on point.

The first song I want you to hear is “Torch Song”, a perfect track for you to hear his vocal abilities, his Dylan inflections and his lovely falsetto:

While you’ll find the standard love songs on this album, a good portion is spent singing about America, the “American dream” and the immigrant experience. He seamlessly slips between lyrics of his personal experiences and universal concepts. Speaking of the “American dream,” here’s a track with that as the title. It’s also a good example of what we can expect from Ondara once he has a full-time backing band:

I know a lot of my musical ramblings rarely talk about lyrics. I’m not good at listening to lyrics because I spend so much time appreciating the instrumentation that I assume I miss a lot of great stuff! But Ondara’s sparse instrumentation gave me a chance to appreciate his lyricism. My favorite example, his song “God Bless America”. As a non-immigrant, I don’t know if I’ve heard the immigrant experience encapsulated so succinctly: “God bless America / the heartache of mine”. Okay, let’s just check out the lyrics of the whole song!

Will you let me in, or are you at capacity
Will you set me free, are you holding onto history
Will you be sincere, are you averse to honesty
Will you dare to hear those children matching on the street

Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine
Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine

Will you let me bring, isabela here from Nairobi
On the phone she was ill, and so was the economy
In fifty years, when I’m frail barely on my feet
Will you be kind oh dear, like you promised at the embassy

Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine
Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine

When the time it is sweet, it won’t matter who your god is,
or the tone of your skin, or who you choose to share your love with

Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine
Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine

Listen while you read:

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Posted by on February 21, 2019 in Life, Music, Music Review, MYNIYL

 

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