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Kenyan singer Ondara wins Sh3million in prestigious US songwriting competition

The International Songwriting Competition (ISC) has bestowed its 2022 Grand Prize on gifted Kenyan singer and songwriter J.S. Ondara. Currently based in the United States, the Grammy-nominated artiste pocketed a cash prize of Sh3.42million ($25,000) on top of various other rewards.

Ondara’s winning song, An Alien In Minneapolis, is a track from his third album, The Spanish Villager No. 3. The song recounts the artiste’s personal experience moving to America and feeling like a foreigner.

“I am very humbled and speechless. I don’t really have the right words at this moment, but I am extremely grateful,” Ondara said upon receiving the news of his victory.

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Ondara’s work demonstrates his remarkable songwriting abilities and an in-depth understanding of the human condition, highlighting the power of music to unite people from various backgrounds.

Born in Nairobi, Ondara was raised on rock music, playing on his sister’s battery-operated radio. Influenced by Nirvana, Jeff Buckley and most notably Bob Dylan, Ondara developed a deep passion for music, despite his family’s inability to afford a musical instrument.

After winning the green card lottery, he moved to Minneapolis to chase his dream of a music career. He taught himself playing the guitar and started performing at open mic nights and small venues. His breakthrough moment arrived when a local radio station played one of his songs pulled from his YouTube channel.

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Ondara’s debut album, Tales of America (Verve Label Group), released in 2019, portrayed an immigrant’s life in America. The album achieved a spot on the Billboard charts and received a nomination for Best Americana Album at the 62nd Grammy Awards. His follow-up album, Folk n Roll, Vol 1: Tales of Isolation was released in 2020, succeeded by The Spanish Villager No. 3 in 2022.

The ISC, established in 2002, is highly regarded as one of the world’s leading songwriting competitions. With over 15,000 entries from 150 countries this year, the winners were selected by a panel of esteemed celebrity artists and industry experts.

Winning the ISC represents a significant accolade for any songwriter, providing recognition, exposure, and opportunities for their music to be heard by a larger audience.

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