generation noirwave - say hello to yannick ilunga aka petite noir

Yannick Ilunga aka Petite Noir is the Belgian born, Cape Town raised and London dwelling artist behind ‘Noirwave’ an African New Wave sound that’s about to be a big deal.

by Courtney DeWitt
30 January 2015, 10:40am

As the King of Anxiety EP climbs the iTunes chart and the video for lead single, Chess, winds its way across the internet, we caught up with Petite Noir to get schooled on all things Noirwave, talk genre hopping, jet setting, and Solange Knowles. 

Hi Yannick let's begin with a Noirwave 101; it's seemingly much more than a sound?
Noirwave is about being yourself and combining all of your influences, which sounds super simple and clichéd but most people find that really difficult. So everyone cannot be Noirwave. For me, it's blending where I was born in Europe with my African heritage and ethnicity... I am what I am and the output is through my music. I'm influenced by metal, screamo, jazz, kizomba music… there's no loyalty to any existing genre.

Who historically do you think was on the Noirwave tip? For some reason I think of comedian Richard Pryor & Aaliyah, artists who were almost beyond their artistic medium, unclassifiable.
Yeah definitely. Aaliyah was just a natural, she was so effortless in her execution and so far ahead in her sound. Michael Jackson was definitely Noirwave… he changed the game! I'm also thinking of a dude called Tabu Ley from Congo who is super Noirwave. I'm sure he knew it too.

Your moniker is French and you have a huge following in Paris, do you feel like the French are just intrinsically more understanding? Do you have an affinity for French culture at large?
France is amazing and they looove good music and art in general. They have good taste. I think that having a French name, speaking French and having family in France definitely helped! A show I played in Paris was one of the best I've ever played. The whole French tour was amazing and I can't wait to hit it again, even harder and to more people!

You were raised in South Africa but live in London, what do you miss about Cape Town when you're in London and vice versa?
I miss the people of South Africa. All my friends, family and just being able to chill. When I'm in SA I miss the work, the business of London and the fashion.

You opened for Solange in NYC and she featured you on the first Saint Heron mix, she seems to fit the Noirwave sensibility. Is there a group or certain artists making music currently that you feel a certain kinship with? I know the Fade 2 Mind crew are supporters!
Solange definitely fits in. That show together was amazing and she was electric live, good energy and all round vibe. Fade 2 Mind to me is the best electronic label ever. Every single artist on there is amazing. If I was a DJ I would probably only play stuff from Fade 2 Mind.

The Chess video is incredible, and unlike anything in recent years. Where did the idea for the video start?
It was inspired by the Ghanaian artist Philip Kwame Apagya, he created these incredible portraits in front of handcrafted backdrops. The director, Cieron Magat came up with the idea of kind of replicating that with a Noirwave twist, it was a truly great idea.

You've been recording with Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) in Cape Town for a good chunk of 2014. How did you guys come together and what was the process like working together?
We hung out for a while before we did anything and that was the best thing to do. He's really become a good friend, man. I have so much respect for him. A lot of musicians have too much ego and just act cocky but he was straight up honest. Being in the studio with him was so cool, he's one of the most amazing musicians I know. On the way there I was like 'What the fuck! I'm actually going into the studio with Mos!'

Was it surreal just to be chilling and making music together?
Yeah man, the first time I heard of Mos was in like 97, my sister had the Travelling Man single with Dj Honda. It was always playing in the house.

Do you and Yasiin talk now? Is it a kind of brotherly, mentor relationship?
What life advice has he given you?
I was at his show in London recently and he pointed me out in the crowd and was like "Whatsup Yan." I email him some music and stuff from time to time. He's more an action guy than a talker, he's more about showing the right way than just talking about it all the time.

What music made a really strong impression upon you when you were growing up?
Back in the day I was really into metal, I got really into it. It was all I would listen to - metalcore, hardcore, death metal. Now, I'm really into Young Thug and stuff like that, I'm also going back and listening to some Congolese Rumba.

You're a nomad of sorts, travelling between London, South Africa, Bangkok and Europe, where do you feel truly at home?
I feel at home all over the world. The rock that's in one part of the world, you can find it in another.

Talk to me about your projects and movements outside of music I know the The Drone Society is your ride or die family!
Yes, The Drone Society is my family. My base. We work on everything together from throwing parties with a drone undertone to designing and leaving our drone mark on everything we do. We have just bought a limited edition of 14k gold initiation rings - many are called few are chosen. Rharha, who is my creative director, heads up the design part and my lil' bro Jordan is more on the logistics side. We are family, we've been going for the past five and bounce amazing energy off each other. We aim to produce rare things in limited quantities that will leave an impact on you forever.

You just dropped your EP and the album is on its way, what can you divulge about it? Is there a general theme or mood?
It's a relationship, from my point of view. I've been in love for about three or four years now and it's just about my experience, which I'm sure a lot of people can relate to. We all have to love someone. I want to be as real as possible and drone it out to the people. Real words from real fights that really happened were turned directly into lyrics. Like the exact words verbatim!

What about the inspirations for the record?
The EP is titled King of Anxiety, what is keeping Petite Noir up at night?

I'm actually sleeping pretty well at the moment!


Text and Photography Courtney DeWitt
Portrait Marcus Shaney

yasiin bey
solange knowles
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Yannick Ilunga
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king of anxiety
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