Petite Noir is Congolese musician Yannick Ilunga and MotherFather is his new release. It’s a genre bending collection of tracks that encompass indie, R’n’B, laidback funk, electronic, acoustic and a splash of reggae under Ilunga’s banner ‘Noirwave’ which is “a musical and cultural movement that draws creative energy from punk aesthetics and the fragmented identity of today’s African diaspora”. Ilunga says it’s “a conversation with God” as well as a “a journey of self-discovery” and he says the subtext of the album is ‘The darkness is comforting sometimes’.
There is a sense of movement to the music that would work well when travelling, whether you were staring out of the window of a plane, train or an automobile. Not surprising then that it was written on the move between Paris, London, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Los Angeles. The title came about through a period of spiritual reflection where Ilunga was considering the nature of God. He says “Organised religion tries to make us believe God is this masculine figure, but for me, that doesn’t make sense. God is a mother figure and a father figure.”
After the full fat horn sounds and crashing drums of the album’s overture ‘777’ there’s the lo-fi flex of ‘Blurry’ that rolls around like warped vinyl, woozy and built on a backing of fuzzed up guitar. Ilunga’s voice is sweet against the gritty guitar and a counterpoint to the great midpoint rap from Sampa The Great. Mixing the grit with the honey is the Petite Noir USP and for every ‘Blurry’ we get the gentle breeze of calm vocals and squelchy beats from a track like ‘Numbers’. From the impassioned vocals and powerful string arrangements of ‘Concrete Jungle’ or ‘Love Is War’ we get the juxtaposition of bouncing beats of ‘Finding Paradise’ or ‘Best One’. There’s even a Jazz Age/Reggae feel on ‘Simple Things’ one of the standout tracks on the album.
Caught up in these songs are Ilunga’s personal life which has often been traumatic. His father Sylvestre Ilunga was a Congolese politician who became prime minister before being forced out of office in 2021 and he also found himself reflecting on the racism he experienced growing up in Johannesburg. The sense of faith on MotherFather goes beyond the religious and despite a line of melancholy which runs through the tracks the abiding feeling is one of faith in humanity, and an optimism for the future and as Ilunga says “MotherFather is about stripping all the ideas away, going back to the essence of what it is to be a human being. To do that, you have to go through the darkness.”
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Review by Paul F Cook
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