Grammy Award-nominated artist Ondara has taken home the Grand Prize in the International Songwriting Competition’s 2022 contest. With the honor, he wins $25,000 in cash, as well as a variety of prizes.

“I am very humbled and speechless,” said Ondara, born in Kenya but now residing in the United States. “I don’t really have the right words at this moment, but I am extremely grateful.”

His winning entry, “An Alien in Minneapolis,” is from his third album, “Spanish Villager No. 3,” released last year on the Verve label. The powerful piece recounts his experience of moving to America and being an outsider.

“Ondara’s music is a true reflection of the diversity and richness of the human experience,” said Candace Avery, ISC founder and director. “His ability to convey authentic, complex emotions through his lyrics and music is truly remarkable. We are extremely excited about this artist, and it is such an honor to award the ISC Grand Prize to him.”

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He joins a select group of artists who have won ISC’s Grand Prize over the years, among them Vance Joy, Bastille, Tones and I, Gotye, Illenium, Fantastic Negrito, Lindsey Stirling, The Teskey Brothers, Passenger, Bastille, and The Band Perry.

Made up of recording artists and executives, the ISC panel of judges included Coldplay, Gloria Estefan, Tom Waits, Brantley Gilbert, Kristian Bush, NEEDTOBREATHE, Sara Evans, Rosanne Cash, Steve Lillywhite, Nancy Wilson, Krewella, Glen Ballard, Above & Beyond, Jack DeJohnette, and Dave Koz.

Born in Nairobi, Ondara grew up listening to rock songs on his sister’s battery-operated radio. Inspired by Nirvana, Jeff Buckley, and most notably Bob Dylan, Ondara fell in love with music despite the fact that his family couldn’t afford to buy him a musical instrument. After winning the green card lottery, he moved to Minneapolis to pursue a career in music. He taught himself to play guitar and started performing at open mic nights and small venues.

His big break came when a local radio station played one of his songs, pulling the audio from his YouTube channel. In 2019, his debut album, “Tales of America” (Verve), was released, depicting an immigrant’s life in America. The album charted on Billboard and was nominated for Best Americana Album at the 62nd Grammy Awards. His second album, “Folk n’ Roll, Vol. 1: Tales of Isolation,” was released in 2020, followed by Spanish Villager No. 3 last year.

He has toured with Lindsey Buckingham, The Lumineers and The Milk Carton Kids, and in 2019, he opened several dates on Neil Young’s tour.

For a complete list of category winners and to listen to the winning songs, visit ISC online at songwritingcompetition.com/winners.

(Pauseandplay.com is a proud media sponsor of the International Songwriting Competition.)

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