Local Current Blog

Behind the Scenes: Ondara’s folk odyssey ‘Ballad of Nana Doline’

After a sold-out homecoming show in Minnesota last December following the release of his first album and a long string of tour dates, Ondara told Andrea Swensson, “Looking at my journey and my trajectory, where I’m from is just so far that there’s just no way…I can’t go back. Forward is the only place to go.” Seven months later, after the world has shifted in unforeseeable ways, this sentiment rings especially true.

Kenyan-born Ondara has been making music out of Minneapolis since 2013 and in that time, he’s toured with the likes of Neil Young, the Lumineers, and Lindsey Buckingham. In 2019, he released his debut album Tales of America to critical acclaim and a Grammy nomination for best Americana album. After his tour with the Lumineers was cut short this March, Ondara wrote and recorded an 11-track acoustic album, Folk n’ Roll Vol 1: Tales of Isolation, which was released on May 29, 2020.

For this video to take shape, collaboration happened across the ocean. London-based filmmaker Charlotte Ginsborg wrote in an e-mail that she “responded to a call from Ondara and his team to pitch for one of the tracks on his new album, written and recorded under lockdown” and began creating the video soon after.

The video features an eclectic mix of people lip-syncing the words to Ondara’s ten-minute long epic “Ballad of Nana Doline,” the haunting closing track of Tales of Isolation.  Creating this video came together as a product of quarantine circumstances.

“I live in a housing co-operative in London, we had been having weekly sing-alongs during lockdown where we came on to our balconies and roof garden and sang to and with each other,” wrote Ginsborg. “This was the inspiration for the promo, which was filmed entirely in the co-op featuring its residents.”

Working within her community allowed for Ginsborg to film a video with an especially intimate look at the people featured in the video.

“Usually I work with a bigger team but this time it was just me shooting with one assistant, working with natural light, but I think this helped the residents, who are all non-professional, to relax and open up in front of the camera,” Ginsborg wrote. Putting what the director referred to as “a series of intimate portraits or character studies” to shine alongside Ondara’s storytelling generates a symbiotic relationship between the audio and visual elements of the video.

“Ondara’s lyrics throughout the album chimed with global experiences, the emotions that many of us are collectively experiencing,” Ginsborg wrote. “It felt like we had to capture the spirit of the moment, one of strength when facing adversity, a greater understanding of humanity and a sense of empathy.”

The incredibly personal look at people conveying the song’s somber lyricism creates a sort of communal experience for the viewer. Ginsborg intended for the video “to nod to the stresses we have all felt under lockdown, but also the joy or delight we as human beings feel when creating, singing and expressing ourselves” in a time when that reminder is always necessary.

Every other Friday we take a behind-the-scenes look at a new music video from a Minnesota artist. Send submissions to fridayfive [at] mpr.org!