This Kenyan musician followed his love for Dylan to a new life and career

J.S. Ondara discovered he loved the music of Bob Dylan when he lost a bet.

Ondara was in high school in Nairobi when he got in a fight with another student over the song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

It’s a Guns N’ Roses song, Ondara argued. No, said his classmate, it’s originally from a folk singer named Bob Dylan.

“So, we got into this fight, and we made a bet,” Ondara explained. “I lost a bet. But I got to discover the music of Bob Dylan and fell into this rabbit hole, which eventually led me to Minneapolis, to his home state. ”

That’s right.

When Ondara won the US visa lottery five years ago he swapped Nairobi for Minneapolis — “straight to the cold” — because of his love for Bob Dylan.

“It’s a very romantic thing to do, you know, do whatever my heart calls me to do,” he said. “I think it’s one of the reasons why I felt this sort of kinship with Dylan.”

(Dylan is from Hibbing, Minnesota, which is about 200 miles north of Minneapolis.)

So then, 20-year-old Ondara arrived in Minneapolis, planning to pursue a career in music.

His first goal was to start a band, but he quickly realized he didn’t know anyone. So, he did it alone. He picked up a guitar, put the poems he’d written into melodies and started to “play open mics around Minneapolis, play shows and get feedback.”

In December, Ondara opened for ex-Fleetwood Mac member Lindsey Buckingham.

His first album, “Tales of America,” was released this month and a tour is scheduled for March and April — and locations are beginning to sell out.

Ondara’s debut album is an 11-song set about his life in the US. The first song is called “American Dream.”

He wrote 20 songs called “American Dream” before this — the 21st — made it onto the album.

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