6 Years After Migrating To America From Kenya, J.S. Ondara’s Debut Album Nominated For Grammy Award


When  J.S Ondara migrated to America from Kenya in 2013, he didn’t know how to play a guitar. That did not stop him from having dreams of one day being mentioned in the same breath with Bob Dylan.

Fast forward to two years ago, Ondara, using the moniker Jay Smart performed in-front of a modest crowd. Since then, it has been an upward climb for Ondara and America has been taking notice of an emerging superstar.

Last year, African Warrior Magazine wrote the following about Ondara:

“Sooner than later, a whole lot of other people are going to be talking him up nationally.”

It is not surprising that Ondara has been nominated for the 2020 Grammys, where he will compete against Keb’ Mo’, Yola, Mason Cunningham and Calexico and Iron & Wine in the coveted Americana category.

Ondara’s Grammy nominated album is titled “Tales of America,” and was produced by Grammy-winning Los Angeles studio wiz Mike Viola (Ryan Adams, Jenny Lewis). It includes such high-profile collaborators as Dawes’ Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith, Andrew Bird and members of the Milk Carton Kids.

The album explores Ondara’s time in America, and in his words, “a deliberation on the times, and a search for wisdom and the American dream.”

The song “American Dream” is a must listen and has received rave reviews. Last year, NPR noted:

“The song and the video seem to deal with the past, the present and the future all at once. It’s a glimpse of America through the main character’s delusional vision of life. He goes about his day to day with no clear understanding of what is real and what is not — though he does seem to have a mission in mind.”

In an interview with NPR Music, Ondara explained the following about the song:

“The video follows a man, as he sets upon a journey to purchase a weapon. While on his way, we get a glimpse of the world around him through his eyes, which gives us some insight into his state of mind. Ultimately, the video explores the turbulent times in the country, socially and politically, thereby throwing a shade of irony to the popular notion of ‘The American Dream.”


Suggested Read: The ‘American Dream’ Through The Kenyan Eyes Of J.S. Ondara.