Strasburg turned me on to this.
That’s right, now promoters give you the tips. They see everything, they know what’s reacting or not, whereas record company people hype you on their wares.
This is what Don said:
“You heard J.S. Ondara yet? Check track called Lebanon. There is hope”
So I did, Don’s right, I’ve got to ask him how he found it.
I navigated to Spotify and pulled up “Lebanon” and I didn’t get it at first, but then it changed and hit a groove and I found my body moving and I said to myself, this is GREAT! It sounds nothing like what’s on the hit parade, it’s the type of thing you listen to at home, or alone in the car, it just makes you feel good, and you might even get up and dance.
Remember “White Ladder”? David Gray flopped with three major label albums and then he cut just what he wanted independently and he became a star. It was in the grooves, the album took you to a space only music could take you, where no one else was taking you. “White Ladder” wouldn’t die. It was part of the culture for two years.
Unfortunately, David Gray has never been able to equal it since, not even close, it’s like he’s inhibited by his success with “White Ladder.” Kinda like Alanis after “Jagged Little Pill.”
Then I played the J.S. Ondara cut with the most plays, entitled “American Dream.” It’s been streamed on Spotify 1,259,446 times. Which means some people have heard of J.S. Ondara, but most people have not.
But “American Dream” didn’t resonate, so I clicked on the second most played track, “Saying Goodbye,” with 803,356 streams. And it resonated just about as much as “Lebanon.” Now I was excited, I had to play the whole LP, but on initial listen, only one other cut jumped out. So, maybe this isn’t “White Ladder,” which was solid throughout, or maybe I just haven’t heard it enough. But the problem with the internet age is if it doesn’t come out and grab you immediately, you ignore it, move on to something else.
Now maybe I’m making the “White Ladder” connection because of the similarity of the vocal. But still, it made me think of when adults mattered, when something didn’t have to have beats or an overblown pop singer to make it, hell, J.S. Ondara is subtle.
So I Googled J.S. Ondara. He did have a Wikipedia page, which was a good sign. But then I clicked on the “News” tab and found the same story again and again, Ondara’s story, how he came from Nairobi, but stories like this only matter after the music catches on. That’s the hardest problem, getting people to listen, to check something out and spread the word if they like it.
I immediately wanted to spread the word.
But it’s not 1999 anymore. Now there’s a plethora of product and the world is laden with people who feel good by telling everybody else they’re full of crap, that their taste sucks and they’d better shut up and crawl back into the hole they came from. And that makes it so you don’t even want to play, what difference is it gonna make anyway, a sliver of the audience will like this music, everybody else will ignore it. You feel like Sisyphus.
But then you don’t want to write about anything.
But the truth is “Lebanon” and “Saying Goodbye” are a cut above. The people who do care need to be made aware, these songs will make them happy.
So that’s what I’m doing.
P.S. I always give a Spotify link, that’s the dominant service, the most active one, yes, Apple may have more subscribers in the U.S., but they listen less, don’t hassle me, that’s a fact. But not everybody has Spotify, so I decided to look for a YouTube video. And I wanted the studio take, but what I found first was a live version. And I was stunned. The acoustic certainly sounded live, but the vocal, was it canned? No, this guy is that good, he sounds just as good as he does on record, and that’s rare. And if you put J.S. Ondara on a TV competition show he’d lose. Because that’s not what they’re looking for, they want someone with an excellent voice who is malleable, who can sing everything. Ondara’s voice is unique, not traditional. And he can sing his stuff with feeling, but somebody’s else work? Ondara is what we’re looking for, when you hear it you know it.
P.P.S. The official “Lebanon” video only has 86,718 streams on YouTube, as opposed to the 406,103 on Spotify. Turns out YouTube is only for the youngsters who won’t pay, or for truly exceptional videos. True fans are ponying up for streaming services.