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Petite Noir

The project of Yannick Ilunga, Petite Noir's blend of bold African musical traditions and moody post-punk is the prime example of Noirwave, the musical and cultural movement created by the Congolese singer/songwriter/producer. Ilunga refined Noirwave's exploration of Africa's past and future with the ambitious mix of electronics, rock, polyrhythms, and brass of 2015's La Vie Est Belle and 2018's vibrant La Maison Noir/The Black House EP, which added elements of rap -- and features by Danny Brown and Saul Williams -- to his music seamlessly. On 2023's reflective MotherFather, Ilunga brought an intimacy to Petite Noir 's music that highlighted its searching, spiritual qualities. Born in Brussels, Ilunga moved with his Angolan mother and Congolese father to Cape Town when he was six and grew up singing and playing guitar in church. After spending some time in the metalcore band Fallen Within, Ilunga's ideas of what music could be were changed after hearing Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak, and he began experimenting with Ableton while writing his own songs. When he was still in his teens, he met and began playing guitar for township tech pioneer Spoek Mathambo. In 2009, Ilunga formed the chillwave duo Popskarr with Terrence Pearce, whom he met through Mathambo. Over the course of three years, Popskarr released a handful of singles, including 2009's "The Light" (which also featured Mathambo) and 2012's "Fighter." During this time, Ilunga continued to work on his own music, combining electronics, guitar, and his commanding vocals into what would become Petite Noir. He dubbed his fusion of new wave and African influences Noirwave and expanded it into a cultural movement that embraced the multifaceted identity of the African diaspora.The project's first single, "Till We Ghosts," arrived in 2012 and soon earned acclaim; Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) appeared on a remix of the song. That year also saw the release of the single "Disappear." The following year, Petite Noir issued the single "Noirse" and opened for Solange on her 2013 tour (a remix of the song appeared on Solange's Saint Heron compilation). Ilunga signed to the Domino imprint Double Six and released the track "Chess" late in 2014, shortly before his debut EP, The King of Anxiety, arrived in March 2015. Taking its name from an acclaimed Congolese film, Petite Noir's full-length debut, La Vie Est Belle, was released that September. Recorded with Boxed In's Oli Bayston and Ibibio Sound Machine's Leon Brichard, the album emphasized the atmospheric, electronic aspects of Ilunga's music. Petite Noir toured in support of La Vie Est Belle with artists ranging from Mac DeMarco to Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar. During this time, Ilunga also made a name for himself as a collaborator: he appeared on the Shoes' 2015 single "Lost in London," Danny Brown's 2016 album Atrocity Exhibition, and Cid Rim's "SWNERVE" and Baloji's "Capture," both from 2017. In October 2018, Petite Noir returned with the fiery mini-album La Maison Noir/The Black House. His first release for the Warp-affiliated label Roya, it featured contributions from Brown and Saul Williams as well as a short film shot in the Namibian desert that touched on spirituality and the issues facing women and immigrants. A pair of collaborations -- 2020's CoeurWorld, featuring Kingdom, and the following year's "TUFF TIME$" with Stiff Pap -- preceded Petite Noir's next album. Born from a period of introspection and travels between Paris, London, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Los Angeles, April 2023's cathartic and jubilant MotherFather touched on growth and healing and featured contributions from Theo Croker, Sampa the Great, Dave Sitek, Cid Rim, and Tropics.
© Heather Phares /TiVo


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