Petite Noir

by John W. W. Zeiser


Denim floor length coat by Gabrielle Kannemeyer + Wilton Dawson.


Sweater with satin and silk woven ribbon detail and pants by Micah Leigh.

Petite Noir

Shall I reassemble your imagination, beginning from birth?

“No one sounds the same, because they have different musical journeys,” says Yannick Ilunga, better known by his musical nom de plume Petite Noir. Ilunga’s own journey has been wide-ranging and fast. The 24-year-old musician grew up playing music in a church in Cape Town, South Africa. He later moved on to a metalcore outfit called Fallen Within, but after encountering Kanye West’s

808s & Heartbreak

, he became transfixed with deeply textured electronic music, which he explored through the chillwave duo Popskarr. Through that Ilunga also discovered his singing voice, which dominates the work created under his current





Ilunga calls his sound “noir wave,” which he describes as “new wave with an African aesthetic.” It’s a sound you can hear most clearly on early Petite Noir tracks like “Pressure.” I ask him about the defining characteristics of noirwave, Ilunga sees this new style as being pleasantly detached, “it’s something that has to do with being free. A lot of the songs that you’re going to hear, people aren’t trying too hard or trying to copy anything.” Concurrently, noir wave is easy to locate amid a kind of ever-expanding pastiche of laptop-based youth culture. With constant access to new influences—fettered by few borders—it’s a sound of flattened aesthetics and values: Music that’s designed for instant sharing, reposting, remixing, and repurposing to fit the mood of the moment. Despite this disconnection, it seems these artists are hearing one another across the ether.

In keeping with this global aesthetic, he’s hesitant to describe his music as being connected to place. Case in point, he’s been bouncing between the Camden area of London and South Africa (to chill), while mixing his full-length LP between tour dates. I asked him if London has any influence on the album, to which he replies, “It’s the same kind of vibe, just a bigger place.” When planes are little more than glorified buses, and laptops mobile recording studios, where you are located starts to mean less and less. Ilunga, however, doesn’t outright deny that his music carries influence from his parents, who grew up in the Congo and Angola; his upbringing in South Africa; and his immersion in the Cape Town music scene, which he describes as “really small, but [with] big artists. There are some crazy things coming out Cape Town.”

His recently released EP The King of Anxiety veers from more overt noir wave elements, instead favoring a sound of slow burning, progressive R&B, dominated by his haunting vocals.

And while he still harnesses that melodic detachment, his physical amalgamation finds its way on to the EP—The King of Anxiety even tackles long distance relationships: Ilunga says the EP was a way to sort out the love stuff, and his new video, “The Fall” directed by his girlfriend Rochelle Nembhard, seems to express this catharsis.

In keeping with the theme of its title, Anxiety also explores being on tour and the general pressures facing a young musician who’s been noticed by the likes of Solange Knowles (he’s featured on her SaintHeron compilation—which also includes tracks from Los Angeles-based musicians Iman Omari and Kelela), and Yasiin Bey (better known as Mos Def). Not one to sit still, he’s already exploring new issues and ideas and promises the LP will be different musically and “a lot angrier.” Maybe those metalcore influences have found a way to reemerge and coalesce.

Photographer: Caroline Mackintosh for

Stylist: Gabrielle Kannemeyer for

Special Thanks: Clare Fitzpatrick, Rharha Nemb, Russell Crank, Chantel Green, Callen Jefferson.