Yannick Ilunga melds Afrobeat and synthpop on a debut full of power and vitality
La Vie Est Belle / Life Is Beautiful
If you’re going to invent a new genre for yourself, you need to be sure there’s something different about your craft. It’s no use being, say, Johnny Borrell, going on about hypnagogic mandalas before releasing a set of John Cale retreads. You’ve got to earn it. Enter Petite Noir – the half-Angolan, half-Congolese Cape Town resident Yannick Ilunga – pioneer of ‘noirwave’, his self-coined “new African aesthetic”. This isn’t necessarily about sound, more of a vibe and sense of expression, but Ilunga’s music stands out nevertheless.
Ilunga’s been surfing the noirwave since 2012 debut single ‘Till We Ghosts’, but this is his debut album and it shines with the refinement a few years’ experience brings. On the surface, it’s a meld of Afrobeat and robust synth-pop, with little surprises around every corner. ‘Best’ is a startling first proper track, following the scene-setting ‘Intro Noirwave’ with blaring horns, Zairean guitar and a pummelling chorus (“I don’t care what you will do so please just go back home!”) that’ll leave you punch-drunk. ‘Freedom’, on the other hand, retreats into Cocteau Twins-y guitar and syncopated beats, while ‘Colour’ is earnest, sharp-suited funk that veers off into chanting. Whatever the approach, Petite Noir locks into a groove, most thrillingly on epic closer ‘Chess’, where glitch-pop gradually builds to a manic, ecstatic crescendo, with Ilunga taking on an arresting dual role as girl and boy in a troubled relationship.
That’s where he shows off his flexible voice, swinging between falsetto and bass, but his is usually an authoritative holler – think Tears For Fears’ Roland Orzabal, particularly on ‘Seventeen (Stay)’, if we’re going to get all 1980s. And we must. So much of ‘La Vie Est Belle’ has that monumental ‘early days of compact disc’ production about it, with antecedents in Peter Gabriel’s ‘So’ and any number of Trevor Horn creations. On the Horn tip, Ilunga shares much with Grace Jones, a black androgyne presented in hyper-stylised, sleek imagery, bringing Afro-Caribbean ancestry to an ultra-new music. Not so unique then, perhaps, but Ilunga’s Noirwave has its own power, vitality and humanity.
Director: Yannick Ilunga
Record label: Domino
Release date: 11 Sep, 2015