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When COVID-19 first hit, Ondara became one of the first songwriters in America to react with songs about living in lockdown.

The resulting raw album, "Folk n' Roll: Tales of Isolation, Vol. 1," arrived just two months into the 2020 pandemic and quickly added to the buzz that earned the Kenya native a Grammy nomination a year earlier off his debut record.

So it's extra surprising that the Minneapolis troubadour is now having a hard time getting going on his first post-quarantine album and tour.

"I don't feel like I'm ready or in the right frame of mind yet," the one-name performer explained. "I needed to work on my act, and on myself."

His third record for Verve Records — which he sees as the true follow-up to his debut "Tales of America" — arrives in stores and on streaming services next week as planned. Titled "The Spanish Villager, No. 3," it's a rockier, more refined and atmospheric collection than its predecessors and is loosely based around a mysterious character and graphic novel Ondara also thought up before and during lockdown.

However, the tour he booked to promote the new record has been postponed, including a hometown show at First Avenue scheduled for Saturday.

In a social media post issued last month, the 30-year-old musician chalked up the delayed plans to "a craving for movement."

"In truth, I have felt slightly trapped in the folk-singer, troubadour form that propelled the beginnings of my career," Ondara wrote. "The same voice that called me to the guitar is now calling me to put it down for a moment, and just dance."

That's quite a change in tune from the elegantly voiced acoustic guitar picker who moved to Minnesota from Nairobi 10 years ago at age 20 partly because of his love for its native son Bob Dylan.

Ondara's folky, acoustic-strummer leanings have been good to him, too. His 2019 Grammy nomination was for best Americana album. On tour, he landed opening slots with fellow pickers Neil Young, Lindsey Buckingham and the Lumineers. He was touring with the latter folkies in early 2020 when COVID hit; their first canceled date was his would-be hometown arena gig at Xcel Energy Center.

"Some other time," he goodnaturedly quipped.

Talking on a coffeehouse patio in northeast Minneapolis two weeks ago, Ondara was a little clearer about his hesitations and his intentions going forward.

He still plans to tour, he said. It just probably won't be till next spring, and it's going to be a lot different than what he had planned this fall.

"I want to step out from behind the mic and reinvent myself as more of a performer," he explained, citing elaborate, choreographed tours by David Byrne and Peter Gabriel as inspiration.

"I felt like I needed to be someone else on this tour."

And literally so: He plans to perform in character á la David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust.

His new promotional photos and album art — shot by former Current/Minnesota Public Radio photographer Nate Ryan — show him dressed up as the so-called Spanish Villager, literally wearing news headlines and wrapped up in a mask, like a ghost from the pandemic.

The character's name was born when the singer discovered there's a town in Spain named Ondara unrelated to his family roots in East Africa. Just as there were two origins of his name, he believes there are two sides to his personality, the new one of which will have his coming out on tour.

"There's a serious side to it, but there's also levity to it," he said, "sort of like I'm the 'drunk uncle' getting up to dance and probably make a fool of myself."

While that sounds fun, the character in question was actually born from a dark place.

"My body was literally telling me I needed to do this. The pandemic heightened my anxiety so much, it actually split my personality in two, and my body sort of forced the Spanish Villager out of me."

'New ways into a song'

There still may need to be some clearing up to be done on the character and the tour, but the music on the album is more immediately relatable and easier to explain.

"The Spanish Villager" offers a roundabout filtration of American and U.K. songwriters who've been influenced by many of the African pop acts that Ondara directly heard growing up, including the aforementioned Gabriel and Byrne as well as Paul Simon and U2. There's a tinge of '70s-era Fleetwood Mac, too, a direct result of touring with Buckingham.

"Hearing him night after night naturally inspired me," he said at the coffee place, holding up his phone to reveal a familiar album cover. "I was just listening to 'Rumours' on the way here."

The Mac/Buckingham influence is especially evident in "A Nocturnal Heresy," one of several new tracks rife with imagery of America in turmoil. The U2-y second single, "A Prophet of Doom," was overtly inspired by former President Donald Trump — though he's quick to point out that it was written before the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

"It sounds like I prophesized that happening," said the proud immigrant, referring to such lyrics as, "Democracy on the line / Pick a battle with a prophet of doom / And watch it all slipping out."

Ondara sang a lot about the American Dream and his migration to the United State on his debut LP. He sees this record as a continuation of that theme — albeit sometimes a grim one.

"I still have the romantic notion of what America stands for," he said. "I escaped abject poverty when I came here, so I'm still grateful to be here.

"But at the same time, I see the empire crumbling. I'm horrified and angry about what has been going on. I'm afraid the concept of democracy is being lost."

As with "Tales of America," he once again enlisted Los Angeles vet Mike Viola (Jenny Lewis, Dan Wilson) as producer, with members of Dawes and other seasoned L.A. players as backers. Viola said of Ondara in 2019, "He can sing, he can play, but what's most appealing and rare in a young artist like him is his curiosity to find new ways into a song."

That sounds even truer in 2022.

Ondara admitted that his new way of performing in character is a work in progress. He filmed a performance that he plans to show for an 89.3 the Current promo event Sunday at Icehouse in south Minneapolis. He's also due to try out the new act live for the first time in New York on Wednesday.

"I'm trying to find a way to manifest this character on stage," he said, "like I'm bringing my shadow to life and giving him a name."

Whether or not he's successful, he said, "This is honestly something I feel like I have to do. It's about being honest to myself."

Even when he's not being himself.