On his new album, Spanish Villager No: 3, Minneapolis-based, Kenya-born singer-songwriter Ondara shares his gift for vocal phrasing and delivering songs he’s inhabited. The crystalline clarity of Ondara’s vocals at once display rawness of emotion, shards of despair, and glimmers of hope.
The album follows a Spanish villager in his escapades around the world as he ruminates on heresy, the failures and hope of democracy, and the marginalization of immigrants.
The spiraling and cinematic opening track, “Aliens in Minneapolis,” begins with the repeating line: “Look now what I’ve become.” The singer delivers this in an ethereal, chilling chant before the song launches into a percussive, soulful plea. The experience of alienation reverberates: “Look now what I’ve become/Someone from another space and time/Look now what I’ve become/Just anyone—no one.”
Ondara’s character moves from city to city on the first half of the album. The jaunty, pop-inflected “A Blackout in Paris” rides in on rhythmic guitar down-strums before blossoming into a lush love song. It reverberates with the tentativeness of anticipation and regret over missed connections.
Harmonica strains open and weave through the twinkling “A Seminar in Tokyo,” with Ondara’s Dylan-esque vocals. The singer ruminates on the mysteries of love and his preference for one lover, whom he wants to accompany him on his travels to Tokyo. Soaring choruses build layer by layer on the song’s outro, evoking a sense of both joy and yearning.
The ingenious “A Prophet of Doom” opens with an a cappella warning about the illusory nature of the government. Even when the political pendulum swings, it’s just a new face with the same old message. With a stark, propulsive rhythm and bright melodies, the singer functions as a prophet who warns that democracy is merely a shell game (“Same script, different actor/Same speech, different anchor”).
The second half of the album is filled with songs—“A Nocturnal Heresy,” “A Suspicious Deliverance,” and “A Witch and a Saint”—that explore the permeable borders of sex and salvation, flesh and spirit. Then it closes with the propulsive “A Contrarian Odyssey,” which continues the previous dialogues between body and soul, set against the insistent, relentless thrumming of a snare drum. Bright Wurlitzer chords layer between the beats.
With Spanish Villager No: 3, Ondara lays an aural banquet for us, a feast rich with sonic pleasures for each palate gathered at his table. It is a tasty feast, indeed.
Spanish Villager No. 3 is available HERE.