Music

Petite Noir Values the Interconnection of Art, Music, and Resistance on 'La Maison Noir'

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Noirwave purposely intersects the personal, political, and creative to inspire cultural artifacts. Petite Noir's recent endeavor, La Maison Noir, a six-track EP, is equal parts breathtaking and breath-giving.

La Maison Noir
Petite Noir

Roya

5 October 2018

Yannick Ilunga, aka Petite Noir, values the interconnection of art, music, and resistance. A resident of Cape Town, South Africa, Ilunga uses his life and political beliefs to ignite his work. He coined the phrase Noirwave to describe his genre of music that interweaves hip-hop, pop, R&B, futurist electronica, and African inspired soundscapes. Noirwave purposely intersects the personal, political, and creative to inspire cultural artifacts. His recent endeavor, La Maison Noir, a six-track EP, is equal parts breathtaking and breath-giving. Ilunga coalesces the EP's high points in an abstract visual album, La Maison Noir: The Gift and the Curse, documenting his life while illuminating larger social and political issues. The music video, sponsored by Red Bull Music South Africa, is exquisite in its aesthetic and discourse. La Maison Noir exalts Petite Noir's repertoire to the highest echelons of popular culture while unequivocally establishing his work as protest music.

The visual album opens with the scene Kala/Birth scored by the single "Blame Fire", a deeply introspective track. The lyrics contend with the juxtaposition of malaise and motivation while focusing on how to channel positive energy towards continuing progression. For Ilunga, the impetus to create art and cultivate his political stance is a lifelong mission regardless of earning recognition and prestige. He begins the narrative by stating "I started with a prayer and a big dream... Underrated, understated, never seen". In the video, he is accompanied by a young boy representative of Petite Noir's former self. Here he visually symbolizes his aspirations as rooted in childhood but maintaining durability through the present.

Petite Noir's experience as an immigrant also informs his music. His parents are expats, specifically "daddy was a politician" and former minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He took his family into exile once the nation's violence escalated. Ilunga's status as an immigrant shapes his understanding of how refugees are misrepresented as dangerous and violent: "Refugees on a mission, don't believe the television / Ammunition, ammunition, did you really need more ammunition / Click clack, click clack." This is a clear and universal message as global violence is impacting refugees and citizens' understanding of their plight. As he reminds listeners, "We need to realize that our skin is a blessing. Fuck a curse." Whereas "RESPECT", not included on the visual album but central to the EP, uses polyphonic percussion to underscore an empowered call for respect. Much as "Blame Fire", and La Maison Noir in general, the instrumentation extenuates his vocal baritone creating an intense sense of urgency.

Petite Noir exhibits an innate ability to showcase violence to an audience unfamiliar with a turbulent world. Kala and "Blame Fire" ends with a visual rejection of the tools used to perpetrate violence. The shot is a contrast of black night against a glowing inferno as handguns, semi-automatics, laptops, and a television are thrown into a bonfire. As the video transitions to Takula/Life, Ilunga continues into "F.F.Y.F. (POW)" or fight fire with fire. The visual and lyrical overlap is seamless. Featuring Rha! Rha!, the song returns La Maison Noir to pop music. The simple "pow pow pow pow" refrain echoes a firing semi-automatic and becomes an unavoidable earworm. With an unadulterated pop-sensibility, the refrain is a catchy call and response encouraging the audience to sing-along. In turn, the audience is blindly disseminating a violent message. The emphasis on "pow" is a convincing onomatopoeia recalling how actualized violence is often glorified by popular music and passively consumed by audiences.

The third part, Luvemba/Death visualizes the track "Hanoi". When he sings, "you did what you have to do, to get to the top" there is a plaintive energy in his vocals that again renders the universality of the lyrics. At this point, a chorus joins in to sing "we've come from a nightmare / into a dream world". Here Petite Noir is intentionally vague about the dreamworld and nightmare in order connect it to almost every social, cultural, or political pillar. La Maison Noir reiterates everything is interconnected.

The idea of circularity is revisited throughout the visual album by the depiction of a Congolese cosmogram. Representing the four aspects of life, Kala, Tukula, Luvemba, and Masoni, Petite Noir uses the iconography to return to his ancestral roots while designating the video's four scenes. The contrast between Ilunga, the chorus, and the cosmogram reaffirms the album's theme of complicating individual and collective identity while evoking the past and calling into the future. The cyclical is reaffirmed in the final chapter Masoni/Rebirth as Ilunga caps the visual album with "Beaches" featuring Danny Brown. Here Brown's sense of Americanized hip-hop is evident as the use of racial slurs, references to drugs, and cliches such "Asian persuasion, Miss Caucasian" contrast with the rest of the album. "Beaches" varies too far away from the rest of the album's overt politicization but is an engaging hip-hop track nonetheless.

Ilunga's ability to combine the personal, political, and creative epitomizes Noirwave purpose in giving rise to a social movement. La Maison Noir, the EP and visual album, is the soundtrack for a tempestuous world. The overt politics and adroit musicality ensure Petite Noir's music will appeal to and inspire a global audience.

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