Rock of ages Michigan-born Chell Osuntade is following his post-punk passion in Winnipeg
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Chell Osuntade is not from around here. To reach his hometown, you would need to take a 15-hour drive across the American border, through North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, until you arrived in the village of Berrien Springs, Mich. It’s the type of place with lots of cows, lots of corn and lots of Saturday mornings spent reading bible verses.
It is not the type of town with a thriving punk rock scene.
“We didn’t even have a movie theatre,” says Osuntade, 24, who was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist. “We didn’t even have a mall. The closest one was 45 minutes away.”
“I think I went to two concerts as a kid,” says Osuntade, who now makes sharp post-punk music in Winnipeg under the name Fold Paper. One concert was a Christian rock revue. The other? He doesn’t quite remember.
In that musically conservative setting, Osuntade dove into the deep end of the internet to find secular music other than the kind he played in the church where his father was a pastor.
“I would just picture myself being on stage and playing those songs with those bands, live. Growing up that’s how I taught myself bass and guitar.”–Chell Osuntade
He dipped into country — Garth Brooks, Darius Rucker and Blake Shelton — and then indie music such as Bombay Bicycle Club, Tokyo Police Club and Two Door Cinema Club, before falling into a style of music that seemed at first glance to be the precise opposite of gospel music: post-punk.
The loosely defined and somewhat open-ended genre is characterised by distortion and experimentation, with a heavy reliance on musical risk-taking. Osuntade was enthralled by the possibilities of this amorphous style of art. On Spotify, he would listen to prototypical post-punk acts, and then listen to all the bands related to them. In his room, he would play along with whichever tracks inspired him.
“I would just picture myself being on stage and playing those songs with those bands, live,” he says. “Growing up that’s how I taught myself bass and guitar.”
Osuntade decided he wanted to make music professionally, an idea that didn’t exactly jibe with his upbringing. His parents emphasized education and professionalism, meaning music-making was considered a somewhat unrealistic end-game, especially within a genre with a name as aggressive and foreign-sounding as “post-punk.”
“My parents didn’t want me playing even regular pop or indie rock. My dad always says he would want me to play Christian music or Seventh-day Adventist music,” he said. “Growing up in the church, I listened to Christian music, and then country music and then indie and alternative and now post-punk. But where I am now is exactly where I want to be.”
Where he is now is very different from Berrien Springs.
Osuntade’s family moved to Winnipeg in 2016, in part because of the opportunities available here to him and his siblings. At 18 years old, moving to “the big city” came as a bit of a culture shock for the somewhat sheltered Osuntade.
Suddenly, he was surrounded by small and large concert venues, with a near-constant stream of cheap shows populated by music-obsessed teenagers and young people just like him. He embraced the city, and quite quickly, that embrace proved reciprocal.
Osuntade joined local group Arenas, led by Chris and Mike Scott. “We met online, actually, through Bandmix. It’s, well, Tinder for Musicians, they call it,” he says. “Making connections is important in any scene, but especially in music.”
Arenas played an opening set at an album release show by JayWood, which was then the up-and-coming bedroom-indie project of Jeremy Haywood-Smith.
“Obviously, we were two of the few Black people in that scene,” Osuntade says of himself and Haywood-Smith. They began chatting, became friends and when JayWood needed a new bassist, Osuntade was an easy choice.
“Making connections is important in any scene, but especially in music.”–Chell Osuntade
Playing with JayWood, now one of the city’s most popular bands, opened new doors for Osuntade, who plays in three other highly regarded Winnipeg acts: the indie upstart Julien’s Daughter, the hip-hop multi-hyphenate Anthony OKS, and the Polaris Prize-nominated Super Duty Tough Work, which has invited Osuntade to play on its upcoming European tour.
Meanwhile, Osuntade works as a bartender and barista, and is also working toward a degree from Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, which he attends online.
“He was playing in a few bands and I saw him play once. After that, I knew I wanted to work with him,” says Anthony OKS, a founding member of the critically acclaimed group the Lytics. “I feel like his playing cuts through and his sound is always noticeable. It’s funky and soulful. He’s never just coasting. His playing always makes a presence, even if it looks effortless.”
As JayWood did, Anthony OKS and Super Duty frontman Brendan Kinley were able to help Osuntade feel less alone as a Black artist in the indie music world. In Winnipeg, Osuntade says, there is a large Black population, but not necessarily in the venues he plays.
“I really do feel like I stick out. Going to shows every weekend I sometimes struggle to find another Black person, or Black man, for that matter.
“I do hope to break through and make a name for myself even while being a Black man in a predominantly white scene,” he adds.
After a few years building a reputation as one of the scene’s most in-demand backing players, Osuntade now finds himself at centre stage as the frontman for Fold Paper, the project which distils his musical upbringing into a dizzying blend of punk, indie and garage rock. Medical Jargon, a yet-to-be-released demo, calls to mind stalwarts like TV on The Radio and the noisier side of Bob Mould in its ambitious soundscape and commitment to exploration.
On Sunday, Fold Paper — the band is Osuntade, Alex Kohut, Brendyn Funk and Rob Gardiner — played a packed Good Will Social Club alongside Toronto electronica band Holy F—-.
“I’m playing what I really want to play, and I do feel like it is my calling,” he says. “Obviously, in some ways, I’m doing the things I was not raised to be doing, but I don’t feel badly about that. I feel when you have a passion, you should lean completely into it.
“I want to play music, even if it doesn’t make me a lot of money. I want to dive headfirst into it.”
All he had to do was move to a frozen city on the Prairies.
“I’m really thankful for Winnipeg, and I’m excited to see what else it has in store,” Osuntade says.
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Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Monday, January 30, 2023 7:15 PM CST: Fixes byline
Updated on Monday, January 30, 2023 8:44 PM CST: Fixes typo in deck