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Ondara opens up about the alter ego that became an album

In the opening moments of his recent Studio Milwaukee Session, Ondara needed a little bit of clarification — followed by a lot of support.

“So this is live, is it?” he asked. “I had a curse word at the top of my head, but I’m not going to say that. … I’m nervous all of the sudden.”

Fortunately, he was in the right place. A voice from the room of Radio Milwaukee members called out, “No, we love you!” The rest of the crowd seconded that emotion by showering Ondara with applause as he finished tuning up. And while he jokingly replied with, “I don’t think that helps at all,” the rest of his session proved he was more than fine with the format.

Born in Kenya and a resident of Minnesota since the age of 20, Ondara brings that perspective to every ounce of his art, including most recent album Spanish Villager No. 3. Released last September, the LP is the music version of a graphic novel Ondara created featuring a character his subconscious conjured to protect him during an extremely vulnerable time.

As he told our Marcus Doucette, “I did get to a place where I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the work, [where] I don’t like how I feel being this public person. I couldn’t find myself. As my career was growing, I was losing myself. That yielded a lot of mental turmoil. Until I got the Spanish Villager character, I was just going to stop.”

Obviously, it broke in a different direction. And we’re all the better for it. Hit the “Listen” button at the top of the page to hear Ondara’s impactful performance and one of the more insightful conversations we’ve had at a Studio Milwaukee Session. You can also learn more about Ondara and his Spanish Villager project on this website, and see him at Shank Hall next Tuesday, May 23.

Set list

  1. “A Seminar in Tokyo”
  2. “A Nocturnal Heresy”
  3. “A Shakedown in Berlin”
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