J.S. Ondara returned home to a sold-out show at the 7th St Entry, filling the room with his delicate, mournful voice, poetic words, and stories of struggle.
J.S. took the stage, just he and his guitars, and owned the room with soft acoustic music and his angelic voice. People wept from the words as he played his entire album, Tales of America.
Kenyan born and a current resident of Minneapolis, J.S. told humorous stories between songs about life with his mother and how he left his native land to come to America in pursuit of his music, which was influenced by our own Bob Dylan.
The honesty of his performance kept the crowd stunningly silent as we concentrated on his words and the feeling of the music. We saved any applause for the quick moments between songs. I have witnessed hundreds of concerts in my lifetime, yet none have left me feeling like I have observed such a commanding presence as I saw in Ondara, only feet away from me.
His words speak of a time we wish was behind us, as in the song “God Bless America,” which brought some to tears through the entire show:
“Will you let me bring, Isabela here from Nairobi
On the phone she was ill, and so was the economy
In fifty years, when I’m frail barely on my feet
Will you be kind oh dear, like you promised at the embassy
Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine
Oh God bless America, the heartache of mine”
– “God Bless America” J.S. Ondara
One thing that surprised me was how funny he was. He spoke to the crowd in such a delicate way, his stories and anecdotes shined a light on songs of struggle, pain, and even joy, as his music reminded us of the beauty that is life.
I feel those who were in attendance in the intimate room that is the 7th St Entry may have witnessed the last chance of seeing him perform in such a place. Ondara’s American tour continues to sell out before he heads to Europe, making Minnesota proud of its adopted son.
Follow Richard Dollarhide on Twitter @DollarhideOFL