INTERVIEW: Petite Noir
Yannick Illunga aka PETITE NOIR is an artist who calls several places home. From London to Cape Town, he’s accumulated a mix of eclectic influences (and a friendship with rapper Mos Def) which make for a rich listen on his bilingually titled debut record La vie est belle/Life Is Beautiful.
Petite Noir terms his music as “noirwave,” if it were to enter a genre and his music videos have captured our ears and eyes’ attention with striking visuals to match. We spoke with him during his Red Bull studio sessions in South Africa before he heads on a string of European festivals this month to launch his record.
PS: Hi Yannick, what are you up to today?
YI: I’m in Cape Town at the moment. It’s a quarter to ten here. I guess I’m a late riser. But I like to sleep early too.
I’m going to the studio later and then going Jo’burg tomorrow and then going to London on Monday for the European tour.
Who are the pioneers of Noirwave to you?
It’s more of like a mentality, you know. And yeah it’s quite new, it’s all developing itself and it’s really developed and developed and it’s like a freethinking movement – just freeing yourself from the system, if that make sense.
You seem to be getting a lot of press in France, why do you think that’s so?
I think maybe it’s the name and the fact that I speak French and the energy’s there, you know.
What have been some of your festivals to play in the past and why?
The last festival I played in France was pretty amazing. This festival I just played in New York like a week and a half ago was pretty amazing too. I mean there are so many good festivals but the main highlight now was the one just in New York [Afropunk Festival].
Which Aussie artists do you dig?
Tame Impala’s pretty amazing. Ah man, I’m sure I know a lot of other Australian bands I just can’t think of any at the moment.
On your new record La Vie Est Belle – Life is Beautiful, what came first the title or the music?
The music came first. And then while I was writing I had such a beautiful view of a garden and the sun shining in the garden on the flowers and I just thought, “this is beautiful.” This was in South Africa. I wrote it in Johannesburg a few months ago then moved to London and re-recorded everything in London. It is pretty quiet but I think that’s what I wanted – I think I wanted to be away from everything. And in London, I’m in new area all the time because I haven’t really gotten a place there. Every time I go back we rent some new place.
I’ve read that your girlfriend Rochelle Rharha Nembhard selects the aesthetics for your music videos, can you tell me about that ?
She does the creative direction and the art direction of where we should go and how we should do it. She’s really good and she’s brought along really good artists and she chooses who we should use. She’s on set but we’ll get a director as well and go from there.
What about your non-musical influences, what were you reading or watching during the creation of this album?
I don’t know. I just think I had stuff on my mind that I wanted to let out. I’m quite a spontaneous writer. I sort of write the first thing that comes to my mind.
Is there an ideal listening situation for your album?
I think it’s like family music. You can listen to it with your family and everyone will enjoy it.
How natural is it to sing parts of your songs in French?
I grew up speaking French and I speak French with my parents all the time. It was my first language so it was pretty natural to have it both in French and English.
How did people first respond to your pseudonym “Petite Noir?”
Sometimes people are uncomfortable but the thing is the problem isn’t with me, it’s with you. I don’t really let that phase me. That’s my name.
What have you heard about the record so far from people who’ve streamed it?
Yeah I’ve had very good feedback so I’m excited for the release of the album, very excited.
What else is on the cards for the rest of the year?
A lot of touring, a lot of promo, a lot of videos, more music, more collaborations. The next video should be out in October, I think.
What would you say to the young musicians or producers who are reading this?
Just know yourself and what you want to do and just enjoy the journey.
La vie est belle/Life Is Beautiful is out September 11 via Domino Recording Co.
Words by Antigone Anagnostellis
Photo Credit: Travys Owen