Ondara: Virtual Session

Ondara connects with The Current to play a few new songs from his latest record, Folk N' Roll Volume 1: Tales of Isolation (MPR)

Jade connected with Ondara in Minneapolis about how growing up in Kenya influences his view of America today, how Carl Sagan has inspired him, and what he'll be working on this fall.

Interview Transcript

JADE: Hey it's Jade welcoming you to another one of The Current's virtual sessions and today I'm so so happy because Ondara is joining us and the new album from Ondara is called Folk N' Roll Vol. 1: Tales of Isolation. It's out now it just came out on May 29th. So Ondara thank you so much for joining us.

ONDARA: Yeah thanks, thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

So where where are you right now? Where in the world?

In Minneapolis actually. I'm in Minneapolis actually at the moment, yeah. I don't think traveling is a thing that people are doing a lot right now so I've just been sort of hunkered down here for a while. I think I'm starting to get a bit anxious and craving some motion.

Yeah that'll happen especially with winter right around the corner. I feel like you need to get out, spread your wings, take some walks outside before winter overtakes us. There was an entire tour that you did for Tales of America. That one came out February of 2019. So you traveled all around for pretty much the whole year, and then your second album comes out May 29th. That is a really quick turnaround. I'm kind of curious about that album, and you know, it is Tales of Isolation so was it all written in quarantine? Did you like set up shop somewhere and and do it?

Right, right, right yeah-- so I left the tour, which was cancelled. It was cancelled right before I was going to play Xcel which is really sad. I've been looking forward to play that venue for a long time. But you know, I ended up spending a couple weeks in isolation and just woke up one morning and spent like three days basically vomiting these songs, is what it felt like. I needed a release of sorts and so I just wrote the songs really quick and recorded them in like three days. It wasn't really meant to be an album really. It was meant to be you know like a therapy for, you know, for me. [laughs] Just something I needed to put out there to aid my mental health. But then I recorded them and I shared them with my team and they quickly decided that it needed to be a record and so we sort of decided to just put it out very quickly without doing too much promotion for it. So it's very sort of spur of the moment sudden album.

I think that was necessary. I mean for for us here at the station when we got the music, it felt exactly like somebody else was in your exact situation and able to explain it to you. I know there were other musicians kind of working on that and doing the same sort of thing releasing single songs but I think it is, as a non-musician, just an enjoyer of music, that's one of the greatest things about this time period is that you can connect with the artist and you can share sort of the same world experiences together so so quickly. You know, kudos to you and your crew for being able to pull it together and release it so quickly. Speaking of releasing something quickly, you worked on a video project with this album and I would love to hear about it. I was reading that it's this communication of human spirit across oceans and across cultures, and, can you kind of explain a little bit more of your thought behind that?

Right yes, I was thinking about ways to have a communion of spirit, as you you put it, with people from all across all across oceans. Especially since everyone was locked in their houses and we couldn't really make traditional music videos for for this record and so it felt as though, you know just trying to find a way to collaborate with people from really all continents. We ended up finding very talented creators and directors from cities all through all the continents and and just sort of traded ideas. They basically made this a series of videos for every song the record and it was a very inspiring thing for me to to see that people could still work together in that fashion despite the general polarized nature of the current world.

Yeah being able to collaborate -- was it a collaboration or did they just get your song and then had to kind of take and extrapolate from that? Or was it you working with each of these artists?

It was definitely a collaboration so we-- I had a general idea of what I wanted each video to look like, and so the folks in my team reached out to their contacts and you know all these places around the world and would try to get ideas from directors and once we found a director we liked would sort of go back and forth with stretching out the script and you know making sure it feels cohesive with not just the rest of the videos, but also with the song itself. So it was a very collaborative effort which was great for me since I've never been that great at collaborating per se, it was great to be able to do that.

Well you can watch those videos on YouTube right now on Ondara's channel but we are lucky enough to have gotten some music beforehand, some recorded music that you sent us. So let's check out a live version of "Pulled Out Of The Market," this is off the new album Folk N' Roll Vol. 1: Tales of Isolation. It's Ondara with a virtual session on The Current.

[Music: "Pulled Out Of The Market" by Ondara]

[Music: "Lockdown On Date Night Tuesday" by Ondara]

That was "Lockdown On Date Night Tuesday," a live virtual session with Ondara. Yes, those great videos that you were just watching, those were a collaborative project with artists all across the world with Ondara. Again, you can find those on his YouTube channel. Can I say that I've always been really touched by your your optimism and your positivity for humanity, and that really seems to be a part of this project. It feels like a way of of getting hope, and was that something you needed for yourself to find some sort of positivity for yourself out of all of this isolation? Or was that just something that's just part of your nature?

I suppose it's a it's a bit of both. It's, you know, I'm definitely an optimist sometimes to a fault. I needed that record personally and I wrote some of those songs for people that I knew who I thought needed those songs as well, because what- one thing that this pandemic did is it you know kind of reduced all of us to our bare human spirits, because you're all sort of suffering from the same kind of threat. Everyone from all around the world. So there's a strange kind of unity in that even in the face of the general desperation of the situation, right knowing that you know everyone from around the world is facing this threat in you know essentially the same way. So that record was meant to be something that we can, everyone can be able to relate to you know, and myself included.

On your on your last album you mentioned this series of paintings from Thomas Cole and how that was a big inspiration for you. That sort of visual aspect and I saw that you had been reading Carl Sagan's The Demon Hunted World back in April and I wondered if that influenced you at all on this or if there was some visual aspect that you were turning to while you were sort of at home you know writing down this catharsis piece of work- or cathartic piece of work. Was there some some influences outside that were kind of guiding you?

Yeah I mean I think I'm continually inspired by Carl Sagan. I'm such a big Carl Sagan fan and I think perhaps I draw my optimism from Carl Sagan, perhaps I don't know. Carl Sagan has a way of sort of reducing you to showing how we're just specs in a you know a globe. A pale blue dot in a vast universe and there's there's a lot of humility that comes to that. It shows how we get lost in our heads too much when we are. We're just vessels running around in a in a globe in a vast universe and if we just focused on within we could find more things to unite over than to fight over. I think that spirit of unity I get from a lot of Carl Sagan's work and has inspired me a lot in I think, all everything that I do and other paintings obviously you mentioned Thomas Cole. I mean since I came to America I've been very fascinated by those paintings of Thomas Cole because I always thought they would- I mean they were done in the 1800s but they almost in a way foreshadow what current America is, or where it's headed. Well, it's it seems that way. I'd like to hope that's not the case, because in those paintings it doesn't really end well at all. It ends quite terribly but it's strange how art can foreshadow things like that. I could see what Thomas was trying to say while just while observing America from outside and looking at these paintings, and like, oh yeah this is the course of empire. So that's also something that I think will continuously inspire me for all the records I make, you know? Thomas Cole and Carl Sagan.

That is really interesting, it is the the giant, extremeness of Carl Sagan making you feel comforted in the fact that you're just a piece of, the whole, of this kind of beautiful universe. And then there's Thomas Cole and if you haven't seen the series of paintings I suggest Googling them or going to a museum and trying to track them down but, you know, it does kind of show nature and then you know the buildings that come in, and humanity coming in, and what happens with human nature, and it does feel like there was- besides the the pandemic and all of us experiencing something together, that time to contemplate ourselves really shook up everything. And people are really being forced to kind of come to terms with themselves and who they are and what sort of legacy they want to leave and there's a lot to be grappled with I think in this year, and art really helps with that. How have you felt about the world at large and kind of seeing things, as especially, as you know, you've lived in Minnesota for a while now but still having lived in other places giving you sort of an outside lens to things that are happening, have you have you seen anything and had some some thoughts that you've been reflecting on?

Sure I mean I think from traveling a lot and from growing up in Kenya in Third World essentially, and having spent quite a lot of time now in America, not as much as my time back home but enough to get some kind of idea of of what America is. What I think mostly is, I think it's very easy to sort of decry and demonize the Western civilization when you haven't been anywhere that's not the west, right? When you've been other places that are not the Western civilization where ideals of freedom are not as celebrated as they are here, then you know that there is a lot of value in the Western civilization and in what it has achieved, you know? There's a reason why I came here, you know? There's a reason why people keep wanting to come to the West. Now that doesn't mean complacency, it doesn't mean there isn't work to be done. There's always room for improvement, right? But I think, I think we have to be very careful as to really really discern the things that need improvement and improve on those things and not just demonize the whole you know the whole Western civilization on the premise that it's evil or it doesn't work. And I see how one would arrive at that position if you haven't been anywhere else you know or you know in in places where you couldn't really protest as we've been doing recently and still go home in the evening, you know, get shot. You couldn't say anything bad about your political leaders you couldn't have a show on national television and and you know and say anything bad about your politicians because you get arrested or imprisoned or killed or you couldn't be you couldn't be gay or you know or queer and because you know you might get killed or you might get thrown in prison. All that to say there is a lot of value in what the Western civilization has become. There isn't there is an obvious reason why people move to the West. I think it's sort of...it's just-- I don't-- it's when we demonize the whole thing and say, "Well the West doesn't work let's destroy the whole system." That cannot be. That just, it's a-- it's a departure from reality if you've been anywhere else. Of course I have to qualify that by saying that that obviously does not mean complacency. It just means having very rigorous discourse. Extremely rigorous discourse on what are the things that need to be improved. What are the things that are not working, why are they not working, what exactly can we do to improve upon them? That's my rough assessment from being around the world, I'd say.

I appreciate it, and as always I appreciate your point of view and I look forward to listening to more of that, and that optimistic-- I mean that is still asking for rigorous conversations and contemplating our surroundings is a positive way to to approach any sort of topic. Thank you very much and I want to ask on a lighter note before we hear one last song here, I know that you've been touring quite a bit. Like I said, you toured pretty much all last year and there's been a lot of talk about save our stages and the the spirit of these independent music venues and of all these stages all across the world. Is there one that you would love to play again right now?

You'll have to say that again, I think I lost--

Yeah no problem, so of all the stages that you've played is there one that you have a specific memory tied to, or that was such a lovely venue or show that you could go back there and play it right now?

Wow that's a great question and a difficult one as well. I mean I do have a hometown bias for First Avenue, and I will be there in a few weeks to film something for a festival. It's just, I don't know Minneapolis is one of my my spiritual homes. It has been, and always will be. First Avenue it's where it all began for me really I was at that Current show that you guys had me on a couple years ago and things kind of took off after that. It was so great to come back last year and headline my own sold out show. I'm desperately craving that that hometown energy. I hope we can get back to that soon enough.

Yeah me too. Well I want to see you back on that stage but until then we'll have to just enjoy some of the new music. So again this was a previously recorded live song from the new album Folk N' Roll Volume 1: Tales Of Isolation. This is "Pyramid Justice" live from Ondara on The Current's virtual session.

[Music: "Pyramid Justice" by Ondara]

That was a live song, well I guess previously recorded song from Ondara here on The Current virtual session. I just want to say that this has been so lovely thank you for your music and like I said hopefully we'll see each other here in Minnesota sometime soon. Yeah any big things in the works besides this going and recording something at First Avenue - can you tell us any more about that or is this sort of to be released soon?

Yeah well I think it's part of a festival thing that is being coordinated around the states in independent venues so I think that's what that is. But I mean other than that, I'm working on album three. I already had a different album recorded but you know I've started adding more things on to it and I'll be actually parking on this weekend to do some work on it. So hopefully in the next few months there will be a new album coming in.

Wow well good luck with all of that and we'll see you soon. Ondara's new album Tales Of Isolation is out now so you can get your hands all over that, and a huge thank you to Ondara for joining us today. Thanks also to our technical producers Jesse and Derrick and thanks to our engineer Veronica and thank you so much for joining us and check back for the next Current virtual session.


07:12 Pulled Out of the Market
11:15 Lockdown on Date Night Tuesday
30:19 Pyramid Justice

Songs 1, 2, and 3 appear on Ondara's 2020 record, Folk N' Roll Volume 1: Tales Of America.


Host: Jade
Technical Director: Veronica Rodriguez
Producer: Jesse Wiza

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