When Ondara was a little boy growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, music was both everywhere and just out of reach. He walked around the market listening to vendors playing music from stereos, stopping to listen when he heard something that caught his attention. His family couldn’t afford musical instruments, and the household radio was constantly in demand so he would wait until everyone was asleep so that he could listen to music by himself. He began writing poems, and eventually a cappella songs. He figured that if Bob Dylan could create a legacy setting insightful poems to music, so could he.
Ondara has worked to understand these expectations without bowing to them. He shared during our conversation that being Black in America means joining a tradition of art and resistance, and that helping The Cause matters to him. And his ability to contribute to the cause has grown exponentially, since Ondara hit the road in support of his hit debut album, and opening for artists like Neil Young, Lindsey Buckingham, and the Lumineers.
Since then, Ondara has looked outward for subject matter, releasing a pandemic-inspired album in 2020 based on his friends’ stories of quarantine dating and struggling to pay the rent. He has also undertaken a significant spiritual journey as he struggles to reconcile fame and the demands of capitalism with his desire to become a grounded, useful, wise, grown-up adult. His solution, for now, comes in the form of the Spanish Villager, the hyper-performative character at the center of his new album.
Editor’s Note: Basic Folk is currently running their annual fall fundraiser! Visit basicfolk.com/donate for a message from hosts Cindy Howes and Lizzie No, and to support this listener-funded podcast.
Photo Credit: Nate Ryan