If you want to talk about spirituality, God, religion, the push and pull of energy – bring yourself to a conversation with Petite Noir. “Blame Fire”, his first song in years, is a phrase he re-interpreted to mean “Thank God”. And whether or not you believe in that kind of stuff, it’s hard to deny that the track bleeds unrelenting passion, as though a spirit is forcefully pushing itself out from deep within Petite Noir’s lungs.
We meet on a relatively miserable weekday morning in London, where the South African artist is now based. Dressed in relaxed wear and sporting a kufi style hat adorned with hundreds of cowry shells, Petite Noir – real name Yannick Ilunga – sips coffee as we speak about his career, his latest piece of work – an album called La Maison Noir / The Black House – and more generally on the state of the world and music right now (“it’s trash!”).
The upcoming record was announced with a trailer, shot in Namibia (watch above). There’s a place there called Moon Valley with “crazy rock formations, like huge flipping hills or mountains.” The original plan was to go to Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Yannick’s father is from, but “it would have been too hectic.” Namibia fit the bill instead since it’s lush, mountainous and has a little bit of beautiful greenery.
Still, Yannick’s Congolese roots are important to him. Look close at the end of the trailer and you’ll see the Kongo cosmogram. It literally appears for a second in a quick flash of fire, then it’s gone again. Said to be one of the first geometric patterns recorded by humans based on the movements of the sun, it “represents rebirth, all elements of the life cycle.” For Yannick, it’s another way to explore his heritage, to create something positive with his art, and to touch on wider spiritual concepts but “in a modern way.”
Today we’re premiering one of the next tracks to come from La Maison Noir / The Black House, a tune called called “Beach” featuring Danny Brown and Nukubi Nukubi which you can listen to below. As powerful as “Blame Fire” but coming at things from a different direction, “Beach” seems to swirl its way up from the underworld. “I’ve just reached my limit and I want to let go,” Yannick sings before Danny Brown comes in with his verse, chatting all about death and grabbing knives. It's a haunting and powerful piece of 21st century music, unencumbered by any kind of genre constraint.
La Maison Noir / The Black House is the third release from Petite Noir that falls into his self-created noirwave genre – something he’s previously described as “a higher conciousness of black excellence.” Today, he tells me that creating that genre was the best thing he could have done, because he couldn’t be placed. Sure, you might be able to say that you can hear hints of Joy Divison or Sun Ra in his music. “I’ve had those comparisons before, which is amazing because it means you can’t really pinpoint [what my music] actually is. It’s noirwave and that’s the whole point behind it,” he says. “I’m not making African music or hip hop, so I’m not competing with anyone. I’m in my own lane.”
Later in our conversation, unprompted, Yannick gets to talking about the health of today’s music industry. About how a lot of what’s being pushed is negative and thus only creating more negative energy in the world. There are still good records out there – Dev Hynes’ Negro Swan is one such new release we both agree on. But a lot of what’s getting played is low quality fast food. “And a lot of that music is really degrading to women, about killing each other, and making men overt sexual predators.”
Yannick wants to break through all of this. For a while he thought about quitting music, in the period after the release of his debut album. One reason he didn’t is because he can use his music to explore the world. “That’s the beautiful thing about art, sometimes you can use it to find yourself,” he says, speaking on the decision to head to Kinshasa, capital of the DRC, where he was able to shoot his press photographs (something that was a lot easier than lugging around film equipment). But it’s also more than travelling for Yannick. There’s also a grand purpose at play.
“It is what it is,” he says, shortly before bringing up how a song like Kanye West and Lil Pump’s “I Love It” is bound to be mad successful. “But that’s why I need to use my contribution and freshness in the music industry to be a positive force.”
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Petite Noir's No Borders festival takes place 3rd November at EartH, Hackney, east London and will feature performances from Azekal, Poté and Afrikan Boy. The La Maison Noir visual album is also a collaboration with Red Bull.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.