XPN’s Gotta Hear Song of the Week: “American Dream” by J.S. Ondara

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J.S. Ondara | photo by Josh Cheuse | courtesy of the artist

Meet J.S. Ondara, your next favorite new singer-songwriter. Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, he grew up listening to music on a tiny battery powered radio, discovering the music of Nirvana, Death Cab for Cutie, and Radiohead.

Ondara’s love of rock was disrupted however, when during a pivotal moment when he was 17 years old, he got into a discussion with a friend and came to learn that the version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Guns N’ Roses, was not a GNR song, but a Bob Dylan song. Ondara lost a bet he made, but was won over by discovering The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, an album he had never heard, by an artist he had never heard of. Along with Ondara’s deep dive into Dylan, came his discovery of Neil Young, Damien Rice, Ray LaMontagne, Ryan Adams and others.

Ondara moved to America in 2013 to start his music career, and settled on Dylan’s home state of Minnesota. After two years of his musical career going nowhere, he decided to go back to school. He went to see singer-songwriter Noah Gunderson one night, and was so moved by the performance, Ondara decided he would return to music. After posting some covers of songs on the internet, releasing an EP, and playing open mic nights, word of mouth began spreading about Ondara’s music and shows.

Ondara’s debut album, Tales of America will be released on February 1, 2019. On it, he’s joined by Andrew Bird, Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith of Dawes, and Joey Ryan of The Milk Carton Kids.

About the song, Ondara told NPR Music:

“the video follows a man, as he sets upon a journey to purchase a weapon. While on his way, we get a glimpse of the world around him through his eyes, which gives us some insight into his state of mind. Ultimately, the video explores the turbulent times in the country, socially and politically, thereby throwing a shade of irony to the popular notion of ‘The American Dream.'”

Below, listen to and watch the video for “American Dream.”

Ondara has several shows in the XPN listening area including one in York, PA., on November 30th at Appell Center for the Performing Arts opening for Lindsay Buckingham, and a headlining show at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Collingswood, NJ on December 1st. Tickets and information on all can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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