Spanish Villager No. 3 J.S. Ondara

Album info



Label: Verve Forecast

Genre: Songwriter

Subgenre: Contemporary

Artist: J.S. Ondara

Album including Album cover

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  • 1An Alien In Minneapolis05:25
  • 2A Blackout In Paris03:42
  • 3A Seminar In Tokyo04:32
  • 4A Shakedown In Berlin02:59
  • 5A Drowning In Mexico City03:05
  • 6A Prophet Of Doom05:30
  • 7A Seasonal Amnesia03:39
  • 8A Nocturnal Heresy03:30
  • 9A Suspicious Deliverance03:42
  • 10A Witch And A Saint02:59
  • 11A Contrarian Odyssey04:11
  • 12An Alien In Minneapolis (Edit)04:19
  • Total Runtime47:33

Info for Spanish Villager No. 3

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Ondara’s third studio album, Spanish Villager No: 3, is set for release on September 16 via Verve Forecast/Universal Music Canada, the country's leading music company. The namesake behind the new album is The Spanish Villager—a mysterious character with a potent message who has proven to be a versatile guy: he’s the subject of a short story Ondara wrote and turned into a graphic novel, and now a new album. Today, Ondara is unveiling the first album single, “An Alien in Minneapolis.” Of the song, Ondara explains “Each song on the new album is an exploration into the world and the mind of The Spanish Villager. Some of them paint a picture of specific scenes from the story while others delve into his psychology. Following the disappearance of SV in the narrative, copies of a newspaper titled The SV Times start appearing in random places in Minneapolis where he is thought to be hiding out. ‘An Alien in Minneapolis’ refers to this part of the story.”

The album is produced by Ondara and Mike Viola (Jenny Lewis, Dan Wilson) with contributions from Taylor Goldsmith and Griffin Goldsmith of Dawes, Sebastian Steinberg, Tim Kuhl and Jeremy Stacey. The new collection of songs features a much more full, electric sound.

Of The Spanish Villager character, Ondara shares, “he formed himself during some of my darkest times, and as he came to life, he carried in his heart all the anxieties I had about my journey and about this new world I had moved to.” Spanish Villager No. 3 channels those feelings into 11 new songs that are at once musically expansive and emotionally intimate.

Of the album, Ondara recalls: “I always feel like I’m walking in the dead of night, darkness as my guide, yielding to the subconscious instincts of the muse. Then at some point as the day breaks, I look back and find that the path behind me has outlined something interesting. That is how this project came together, one blind step after another. Collectively, I think of the whole project as one epic poem — a subconscious exploration of the world inside and outside me.”

Spanish Villager No: 3 follows his 2020 sophomore album, Folk N’ Roll Vol 1: Tales of Isolation, and his 2019 debut album, Tales of America, which was released to widespread critical praise, receiving a nomination for Best Americana Album at the 62nd Grammy Awards, and Ondara also received a nod for Best Emerging Act at the 2019 Americana Awards.

Ondara grew up in Nairobi, Kenya listening to American alt-rock and making up his own songs for as long as he can remember. At an early age he fell in love with the music of Bob Dylan and was granted a visa through the immigration lottery system. He chose Minneapolis as his home to pursue a career as a singer and songwriter with Dylan in mind. He began making his way in the local music scene, continually writing songs about what he saw, felt and experienced in a place far different from home. Ondara has toured extensively including sold out European performances, a completely sold-out headlining U.S. tour, appearances at festivals nationwide including Xponential Festival, Newport Folk Festival and Edmonton Folk Festival, and opened for the likes of The Lumineers, First Aid Kit, Neil Young, The Head & The Heart, and more.


J.S. Ondara
Nairobi is an interesting place to grow up in. For better or worse, I am the person I am today both because of it and despite of it. In Nairobi, your background was paramount in how you would fare in life. What schools you would go to, what kind of opportunities you would get, what kind of friends you would have, what kind of connections you would make and so forth. Very often it felt as though every opportunity was hoarded among a certain group of people, living in certain neighborhoods and existing in certain circles. If you were a lowly lad like myself, not from an affluent family, you had to fight with your nails to get ahead. At which point you might afford to sustain yourself under the milk whilst the cream gets tossed around cup to cup. Such was the divided and corrupt state of affairs; but it was home, it was all I knew and with all its faults and flare, I loved it dearly and still do.

As a child, we didn’t have much, but we always had food to eat and a place to lie every night. A tiny battery powered radio was always present as well. Growing up, I was crazy about music. I loved it. I craved for it. I loved the sound of loud guitars. I loved the way a voice could mold itself to fit into a melody. Many times I would make up my own words to match the melodies of songs I liked, since at the time I didn't speak or understand English. I would hear a song such as ‘Smells like teen spirit’ and would make up gibberish words so I could sing along. 'Wizelatsa, isedenja, hiwiana, entatena'. That was my rough interpretation of the iconic song. At the time I was quite sure that's what Cobain was saying. A tale is told that at some point when I was only 7, my cousins gave me some alcohol as a joke. I quickly fell into a stupor, and started singing loudly and joyously . As they tell it, it is this day that I really began to sing and never stopped since.

Despite my love for music, it was never something that I considered pursuing as a career, not until much later on. Back home a career in the arts was not encouraged or even thought to be a possibility. In Fact, it was mostly frowned upon. So I was set to grow up to be an attorney, or a doctor; something that would be accepted by the culture and the family tree. But this was destined to change. I was obsessed with music. I wrote songs with a prolific tenacity. I sang everywhere and anywhere I suspected I was alone; while walking to school, going to the store, before bed, early morning… Slowly but surely, music became an integral part of who I was, there was no way to ignore it. I wrote my first song when I was eight years old. It was about a puppy named Ramona. The second one was about Hannah, my elementary school deskmate. I lost track of the songs after that as I wrote quite regularly throughout primary school. The songs were mostly terrible but as I got into high school they started getting better, or so I thought. They had characters and consistent themes and slowly I found myself getting attached to the songs and the stories they told. I wrote a lot during this period, it was my reinforcement for studying. If I knew I had to study for a test and wasn’t in my most academic spirits, I would promise myself that if I got through a number of chapters I would get to write a song. It was a fun game that helped me excel at my exams.

My taste in music at the time was rooted in rock. I listened to rock radio growing up; bands like Nirvana, Radiohead, Oasis and Death cab for cutie, were some of my favorites. My songwriting at the time also leaned towards arrangements synonymous with rock music. I didn't play any instruments though; not at all for any lack of interest but because no instruments were accessible to me at the time. It was a matter of priority; either my mother would buy us food for the next month or starve us and buy me a guitar and some lessons. Most battles, rock and roll would win, not this one. Playing instruments was always associated with affluence. Only the rich kids could afford such a luxury. In retrospect, this feels like a sad reality, since music is a language that should transcend all barriers.

This was not a problem for me though, at least it never felt like it. I wrote in loads. I would compose melodies in my head almost compulsively and would write down lyrics in the form of poems and short stories, to accompany them. Sometimes the songs would just exist in my head until they fizzled out and were replaced by new ones. Other times I would track down musicians to help me add some instrumentation to the songs. I loved the songs I was writing. Most of them were terrible but I loved them dearly nonetheless. I felt a certain ownership to them. I would think, 'I don't have much in this world, I barely have anything to call my own, but I have these songs. They are mine'.’

My musical journey took rapid turns as I gradually became more familiar with my voice and my ways of writing. A pivotal point for me was a very memorable moment in high school. I was 17 years old; It was sometime in the mid of March. I remember the precise moment because there were riots in a local university around the same time that left a student dead. Very sad times. But back to this moment, I got myself engaged in a debate with a fellow student. We were right outside the gate that led to the school, where students would often gather to enjoy an assortment of street foods. I can't recall how the conversation began but one minute we were talking about the riots at the university, and the next we were talking about Guns N’ Roses, the rock band. The student had this wild idea that the song ‘Knockin’ on heavens door’ was not actually a Guns N’ Roses song but was originally written by a chap called Bob Dylan. "Who now?” I retorted, “I promise you it’s a Guns N’ Roses song”. I was adamant about it, but so was he, “No dude, It's actually by this folk singer called Bob Dylan” he said. His tone of certainty was puzzling to me so I bet him 100 Ksh if I was wrong. A hundred shillings later, I found out I was wrong and by virtue got turned on to Bob Dylan.

I was heavy with curiosity and quickly delved into ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’. After listening to the record, I remember struggling to comprehend what I'd just heard. It was an otherworldly trip. I hadn't heard music that was written or sang in that fashion before. I found myself puzzled by how raw the record was. It also became apparent to me after making this discovery, that there were other musicians, old and contemporary, in the same vein. I was quick and hungry to consume all the music I could find that shared the same coloration. There were times I would take a detour on my way to school, and spend the money I was given for lunch and bus fare in an internet cafe, searching for this music and listening avidly. This would lead me to fall in love with the music of other songwriters such as Neil Young, Ray Lamontagne, Damien Rice, Ryan Adams and many others. Through the conspirations of the universe, that is where I find myself presently in my musical voyage; although be warned that I am of a curious and wandering mind, and I therefore can’t tell where this expedition will lead.

Ah, America; the land of milk and honey, the starred and striped fairy of the west, as I like to call her. Here I find myself now, in Minneapolis; one of the coldest cities in the country. I knew I wasn't going to succeed playing the music I wanted to play back in Kenya, so I set my sights on America. I tried numerous times to seek out and apply for opportunities that would lead me here, but nothing ever worked until one day it did. I can't recall what that feeling was, if it was excitement or fear, or some combination of both. Sometimes you want something desperately, then once you get it, you become numb momentarily as you are uncertain what you got yourself into. I definitely had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was going to America to pursue a music career. This by itself was daunting, without considering the fact that I had no leads whatsoever, no instrument that I owned or could play; just a dream, a book of songs and a barrage of melodies fighting to exit my brain. I had relatives scattered around the states but eventually settled on moving to Bob Dylan’s home state of Minnesota. I was drawn to this place where this infamous folk-singer turned rock-star turned cultural phenomenon, that I looked upto, hailed from. And there I went; the MSP airport awaits.

I came in right in the heart of winter. It was the month of February and I think it would be misleading for me to say that it was cold. I had felt cold before. Back in Kenya, around June and July the temperatures would drop drastically. It would get wet, gloomy and cold. That was cold. What was transpiring in Minneapolis in the mid of February when I landed was not cold. It was outrageous. I thought, ‘This must be a sick joke. The universe thought it would be hilarious to make the weather so biting that it hurts your skin for almost half a year? But why??’ I was upset at nature’s errant behaviour at this time, but then the fall came and everything was gorgeous and I felt a relief. Only a temporary one though because as I have come to learn, winter is always coming.

Once you get over the weather, Minneapolis is a sweetheart of a place. I can’t imagine what kind of songwriter I would have been, had I gone anywhere different. I love this city dearly and owe so much to it. When I landed, my immediate goals were quite different. I wanted to form a band, and take it on the road. I couldn’t play any instruments so I needed a band. At some point I actively pursued the idea of forming a rock band with an opera singer. I wanted to do something different, something interesting, but having no social connections this became an impossible undertaking. Seeing that I wasn’t going to find luck forming a band, I picked up an old abandoned yamaha guitar that was lying about in my aunt’s house in Minneapolis where I resided at the time. The first songs I learnt to play were ‘Knockin’ on heaven’s door’, ‘Blowing in the wind’, and ‘Heart of gold’ in that order. I didn’t learn too many songs. I only wanted to know a few chords so I could put my words and melodies to a progression and accompany myself. I started messing around with the guitar more regularly. I would put my finger here then there, and was fascinated by the sounds that came out. I don’t know much of chords or theorized music, I only fool around and every once in awhile, I get lucky and find a sound that corresponds with a melody that I’m harvesting. Slowly, these songs started to pile up. At some point, I remember sitting in my aunt’s basement and thinking, ‘Well now you have all these songs but what now? What did you think was going to happen?’ The crippling voice of self-doubt was ever so present but there wasn’t much to do but to carry on.

The journey there on was tumultuous. I started looking for opportunities to play my songs to people. Songwriter circles, open mics, coffee shops, anything I could find or think of. This however only lasted a short while before my family put their foot down and asked that I enroll for school. It had been two years and not much had turned my way with the music. Two years is not enough time to become a live musician let alone start a career in music out of nothing, but my family was getting impatient. Things were also getting tough back home and I needed a steady income so I could be of assistance. Therefore, very reluctantly, I enrolled for school. I was to study music therapy. Something with a more stable projection for work. “Well, it’s still music” I comforted myself.

Two semesters in, a friend invited me to a concert. “You are going to love it” he said. It was a songwriter from seattle whom I’d never heard of before called Noah Gundersen. That was the first show I’d ever paid money to go to. I was bombarded by many different emotions throughout the duration of the concert. My best attempt at describing it is that it was a spiritual experience. I recall leaving the show and thinking, “Well, to hell with everything else, that’s what I’m going to do”. I would then drop out of school the following day and go back into the grind of playing open mics, and shows around town. I was determined, hungry and inspired. Something will work out, it has to. And it did, after posting a few covers on the internet, playing the circuit around Minneapolis and recording a rough EP independently, word got around and the local public radio station ‘The Current’, picked up on my music and put it on regular rotation. I went on to play The Current’s birthday party at the iconic First Avenue mainroom and not long after that the business offers followed suit. Now here we are, not too far from where I started but not too close either. Just somewhere on the way, somewhere I don’t know and don’t wish to know; but stay with me, and we’ll navigate these murky roads together.

This album contains no booklet.

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