• Seb Lowe

Folk n’ Roll Vol 1: Tales Of Isolation – a Record That Perfectly Captures a Moment in Time.

The timely release of J.S. Ondara’s latest album ‘Folk n’ Roll Vol 1: Tales Of Isolation’ provides a perfect moment-defining snapshot of the times we are living through.

Image Credit: Ondara

J.S. Ondara was born in Nairobi, Kenya and is perhaps the ultimate example of a young man pursuing the ‘American Dream’ to its fullest. Ondara was granted a Permanent Resident Card to move to the United States aged twenty courtesy of the Green Card lottery, also known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, which aims to diversify the immigrant population of the United States. He had no guitar, very little money and a dream.

Ondara discovered The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan almost accidentally, after losing a bet to a friend when he argued that Guns N’ Roses wrote ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’, rather than Dylan. Since discovering Dylan and moving to America, Ondara fell in love with folk music and taught himself to play the guitar. He settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota as he set about following in the footsteps of his idol.

Tales of America’, his Debut Album, is described by the singer as “Just me pondering, trying to search for wisdom”, he sums up by saying “life is weird, and America is so weird”. The album tells the story of an immigrant who moves to America, keen to make a name for himself through sheer hard work. Clearly Ondara has experienced the worst side of being a black man in the United States as well. He felt compelled to write about these struggles in ‘Turkish Bandana’ from Tales Of America, where the line ‘must I live in fear of the constabulary?’ harrowingly rings out as the song ends. The final song on his Debut Album, God Bless America is simultaneously one of hope and of despair. Ondara has so much to thank America for, but also despairs at the prejudices that continue to run deep within it. He closes the album with the words:

‘When the time it is sweet, it won’t matter who your god is

Or the tone of your skin, or who you choose to share your love with’.

A clear vision towards a free, liberal and tolerant future for his adopted country.

Folk n’ Roll Vol.1 Tales Of Isolation was written and recorded in only a week. The album discusses the human experience of a global pandemic (Isolation Depression Syndrome), economic devastation (Pulled out of the Market) and documents the sheer boredom of a performer who cannot perform (Isolation Boredom Syndrome). Tales of Isolation is a vision inside the mind of a man trying to make sense of a world in which ‘unprecedented times’ has become a commonplace reference to everyday life. ‘Pyramid Justice’ is a song condemning hypocrisy; how we readily disregard our values in the selfish pursuit of financial and political ends. ‘Ballad of Nana Doline’ imagines the life of an elderly woman lost to the pandemic. ‘From Six Feet Away’ documents the difficulty of staying apart from those to whom we are closest, whilst including a humorous ‘Tiger King’ reference. Ondara effortlessly covers the most challenging and the most peculiar aspects of this pandemic in his stanzas.

This record encapsulates a moment in history. This is the kind of album, much like Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, without empty lyrics. Every word offers some kind of reassurance or insight in a world where so much is seemingly changing. Many of the sentiments behind Ondara’s circumstantial songwriting extend way out into the future. Ondara’s Tales of Isolation is a time capsule that tries to comprehend the most unusual of times.

Check out Ondara's Tiny Desk Concert below.

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