Petite Noir

Petite Noir

May 21, 2015 Issue #53 - April/May 2015 - Tame Impala Bookmark and Share


Yannick Ilunga is many things. A traveler who splits his time between London, England, and his home in Cape Town. A musician who crafts muted pop full of hypnotic chants, and sinuous, R&B inspired vocals under the name Petite Noir. A leader of Noir Wave, an unofficial clutch of African artists in both Cape Town and Johannesburg that aim to infuse a New Wave sensibility into their continent's traditional polyrhythmic sounds. He is not, however, a neurotic. Despite the hyper-honesty of his debut EP The King of Anxiety, he assures that the title doesn't refer to himself.

"I think we all are the king of anxiety," he chuckles. "The name is interpreted wrong. It's meant to be a bit ironic. When you're the king of anxiety, you overcome your anxiety. We all go through anxiety. It's about overcoming all that stuff, really."

Although Petite Noir is a solo act, Ilunga credits the friendly spirits around him for guiding his dark, shape-shifting tunes. He grew up in the church, says that he believes in "spiritual stuff," and has had run-ins with ghosts. "Ghosts" is a word that, for him, doubles for "kindred spirit." He counts Mos Def (aka Yasiin Bey), who worked with Ilunga on his Talking Heads-reminiscent 2012 debut single, "Till We Ghosts," as among his friendlier, seemingly otherworldly collaborators.

"I don't believe in coincidence," he muses. "I don't believe things are accidental. It just depends how you take things. You can either choose to be blind to certain things, or you can just be aware of certain things. A lot of people choose to not be aware.... As beings, or as humans, I think we almost work like satellites. Some people are on the same frequency, old or young. Some people mix, some people don't mix. Some people have high frequencies, some people have low frequencies.... I work with a lot of people. If I didn't get inspiration or wasn't touched by the last person that I worked with, the EP wouldn't have come out."

At the time of the interview Ilunga was in the studio working on a King of Anxiety follow-up with producer Oli Bayston (who also records as Boxed In). He promises the full-length will be louder and more energetic than The King of Anxiety's muted guitar and percussion sonic palette. However, he says that it will be equally as open and confessional as the EP. He points to King of Anxiety centerpiece "Chess," a song inspired by a Skype fight with his girlfriend. ("She's also pretty artistic and creative," he notes of the track's inclusion on the EP. "So she was okay with it.")

"If it fits, it fits," he says, laughing. "Right now, all I have is my life. I'm not popping champagne and doing crazy things like that. I just talk about my life and what's happening.... Who knows what it will sound like when I'm rich and doing all types of crazy things."

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's April/May 2015 print issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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