South Africa is, in many ways, the epitome of the modern nation.
An astonishing fusion of culture, music, and language, the pressure-cooker of South African life is throwing up all manner of new sounds and fresh innovations.
Petite Noir - real name Yannick Ilunga - couldn't help but notice these developments. A man of the world, the musician's debut album was fired by South African life but largely constructed in London.
A wide-eyed marvel, 'La Vie Est Belle / Life Is Beautiful' is without doubt one of the more imaginative records you'll hear this year. Situations at the crossroads between Fela Kuti and Mos Def, shangaan electro and Berlin techno, the record embodies that Petite Noir has termed 'noirwave' - at once a form of music and a state of being.
Clash attempted to track down Petite Noir for a short Q&A - remarkably, he agreed. Check out the results below.
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Can you define noirwave for us?
As a sound it’s new wave with an African aesthetic. But it’s more than that, for me it's a progressive social movement that’s emerging right now, and it’s emerging in the creative output of inspiring young minds. It challenges the old perceptions of Africa and champions the new, forward thinking creativity coming from the continent.
Does noirwave only apply to your own music, or do you believe it's a concept which can cover other musicians’ work?
It certainly does apply to other bands, and there’s a whole host of bands coming out now that are seizing the opportunity to rewrite the rulebook on what music from the continent is. I hate the term ‘world music’. Noirwave is about the freshest, most progressive and forward-thinking of ideas.
The album is titled 'La Vie Est Belle / Life Is Beautiful' – it's a beautiful message... what drew you to this title?
I was sitting in a garden whilst writing the album and I thought it. It just seems to fit the message of positivity so well.
You've worked in many different studios, with different collaborators but have settled on the standard album format. Why? What does an album offer a 21st century artist that, say, a mixtape does not?
The album for me is an opportunity to tell a complete story; exploring different messages but all brought together under a greater theme. Being able to tell that story in full, in a widescreen, full colour story, which the album allows me to, is very important to me as a songwriter.
The album was recorded in London, what attracted you to work in the city?
London is a really exciting place, and there’s so much talent around. You have to be at the top of your game to break through in London. I like the drive that London gives me.
Oli Bayston (Boxed In) and Leon Brichard (Ibibio Sound Machine) are prominent collaborators, how did you meet? How have they helped advance your sound?
It was great to work with those guys, both very talented guys that helped me realise my vision.
Much of the album focusses on love, an eternal topic for songwriters. What is it that draws you towards love? Do you believe in true love, and is it attainable?
Yes of course. Positivity is the key and love is behind the door.
Some of your songwriting focusses on transformation – do you mean this in a personal sense, or in the sense of life being transformed through art? Or, perhaps, both?
For me it’s transformation in your own life, embracing change for the better. I wanted this album to ultimately champion positivity and hopefully bring that to people.
The album feels like a complete document, was this the aim from the start? How do you achieve this unity? Is it through the songwriting, or the sounds used, or the mixing process?
I think it’s the songwriting and storytelling that has helped bring this completeness to the album. When we were in the studio the sounds I was after were finally realised, but my first sketches of the tracks had the atmosphere and feeling that I wanted to create. It’s essential to have that before I get into the studio.
You're coming back to the UK for a series of shows, what can we expect?
I’ve just played a string of dates in the UK that were all incredible. I’m now in Europe for shows and will be back in the UK soon – in early 2016!
The artwork and videos connected to Petite Noir are startling – did you always intend for this to be a visual project? Do you discuss music in visual terms?
Working with my incredible art director Rochelle and the incredible artist Lina Viktor was a real pleasure. They worked tirelessly to bring an amazing visual representation of the album alive, and the result is remarkable. The feedback on the art has been incredible, it explores a lot of the themes of the record in a fascinating way.
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'La Vie Est Belle / Life Is Beautiful' is out now.