Londoner, by way of South Africa, Yannick Ilunga aka Petite Noir is the poster child for today’s ethnic melting pot of cultural expression. Petite Noir found his sound by infusing new wave with trip hop and composing pounding harmonies reminiscent of South Africa’s iconic drumming culture.
The 23-year-old performed in various bands for almost his entire adolescence but finally seems to be settled in his incarnation as Petite Noir. Armed with an amazing live band, Noir is wowing the musical community with a series of singles like “Disappear,” and “’Til We Ghosts” that are paving the way for his upcoming debut album Noir Wave. Petite Noir cites his 4-year long distance relationship as a major source of inspiration but you’ll have to read further to get the sometimes sad, sometimes happy, but always inspirational details.
You’re relatively young and you’ve got a very unique sound. Tell us about how you were introduced to music?
I started making music randomly, like playing in different kinds of bands—jazz and metal etc. Growing up I was very much against the whole pop scene and I just started digging further into more obscure, interesting music like heavy metal, and really psychedelic music.
Then I started getting into quite a bit of rap music. At 16 I joined a band, but I quit before we put out any music. The whole band situation was just too stressful, like too much creative input. It was weird because everyone was really talented, but I think the personalities just clashed too much. Then me and a friend formed another band which was very much focused on electronic music; I quit that band two years later and started Petite Noir.
You always pay homage to your South African roots in the rhythmic harmonies and drum patterns that underlie many of your tracks. Considering all the different genres you’ve experimented with, was that influence always apparent or did it emerge with Petite Noir’s creation?
I think it comes quite naturally. I don’t try to force things I just do what’s on my mind at the time. When I feel like I need to let something out, I just let it go.
Do you have any specific artists that you turn to for inspiration?
Not specifically, South Africa is really small but when I do have writer’s block and I’m looking for African music specifically I would look to people from the Congo, Mali, Senegal or people from those kinds of places. A lot of my current influences definitely come from South African house music, which is really great.
Why choose to write lyrics in both French and English? Do you find it easier to express certain sentiments in one language and vice versa?
Well, I’ve never written a song completely in French, although that is a goal, but it really just depends on what I’m thinking about. I just write and write and write and if something comes to me in French then I’ll decide how to put it in the song. It really just depends on the language I’m thinking in at the time.
Tell me a little about the message you’re delivering in your album? Will it be a concept album?
Well the album is about being in a relationship. It’s about being in love and the ups and downs of a relationship—the fun parts and not so fun parts, the intimacy and/or loss of it.
Your song “’Til We Ghosts” definitely alludes to that sense of old love, that not so fresh love. You’re clearly talking to a woman, as you can see in the video. What was your thought process behind that song?
I’ve been in a long distance relationship for four years. It’s basically like I get to see her but then she goes back and home and disappears. I was also trying to say that we would be together forever—like a promise kind of thing. I actually got inspired for that music video from a movie called Enter the Void by Gaspar Noe.
How did it feel to open for Solange this past June in Williamsburg’s McCaren Park for the Northside Festival?
Opening for Solange was definitely fun, like we didn’t really get to meet her in person but it was great playing that show. I think she’s really nice. It was definitely one of my favorite shows, my second time playing in America but my first time playing in New York.
Tell me a little bit about your online bromance with A-Trak. I saw online that you guys have been tweeting each other quite a bit.
(Laughs) Yeah, we’ve never met in person though, it’s just an online relationship. I met him like once when he performed in Cape Town, South Africa last year and that was cool.
Well we’re definitely excited to see what kind of music comes out of that bromance. Your style is clearly important to you. You tend towards five-panel camper hats and patterned button-ups with studded black leather jackets. I even saw you rock some gear by NYC’s Hood By Air. Could you see yourself doing some fashion collaborations and if so, for what brands?
I did a little collaboration with a South African brand called Unknown Union but I’ve never really done any collabs other than that. I would definitely like to do that, though; I really enjoy streetwear.
What can we expect from your upcoming album Noir Wave? Is it still slated to release this month?
Well, it was supposed to drop this month but it’s been pushed back to next year. The album is done being recorded; we worked with a producer called Luke Smith and then I’ll be in New York to work with another dope upcoming producer but I can’t say who just yet!