Six years after he emigrated to America on a Green Card, Nairobi-born JS Ondara, 26, is releasing an album that speaks to his passion for American folk music, even as he grapples with the new environment.
In an interview Thursday with Rolling Stone, the Minnesota-based artiste discussed Tales of America, out February 15.
“Just me pondering, trying to search for wisdom,” as Ondara describes it. “Life is weird, and America is so weird.”
His songs include ‘God Bless America’, a commentary on modern American immigration. It begins with the line: “Will you let me in?/Or are you at capacity?”
Growing up obsessed with passé American rock music made Ondara stand out in Nairobi. He would skip class, spending the daily bus money he’d receive from his mother at the cyber cafe instead, researching the history of American folk music. “I dove deep and fell hard,” Ondara says.
That curiosity is what led him to seek the Green Card, and getting it sparked his creativity. “Can’t sleep,” he tweeted within weeks of moving to America. “Mind is super-charged with ideas!”
Ondara, a Bob Dylan fan, began teaching himself guitar online, playing open mics, honing his sound and a stylish look based around pristine vintage suits. With time, he earned a major-label deal and opened up for artistes like Lindsey Buckingham and First Aid Kit.
“When I think about my childhood, and where I’m from, the chances of this are so random that sometimes I lose words to try to explain what it’s like,” he says.