In a parallel world, Spoek Mathambo might have been the vocalist for Popskarr, an electro-pop outfit he conceptualised with Terrence Pearce. But he had no time to be a part of as he was leaving his then Cape Town home to take root in Johannesburg before taking over the world. Instead he roped in a then teenage Yannick Ilunga whom he’d met during his Sweat X days to fill in. Both have also recently collaborated on the 2012 update of the Fela Kuti tribute album Red Hot and Riot, specifically on the song Zombie.
Illunga was born in Brussels in 1990 to a Congolese father and Angolan mother who moved their family to Cape Town, South Africa six years later. When he’s not posing as part of Capital of Cool, (a collective of creatives he neither refutes nor accepts are a crew of hipsters) he’s orchestrating Petite Noir. This is a solo project via which he means to introduce the world to his own genre of music, Noir Wave. The first single Till We Ghosts, has this video.
Phiona: Have you been to Congo and Angola
Yannick: I have but for a very short while though
So do you identify most with South Africa culturally?
Well, not really. Since I’m not from SA. And SA people aren’t the most welcoming either
How do you mean?
Just ignorant shit happening. It’s always been amongst the blacks that reject other blacks from other countries which I don’t understand.
Have you ever experienced it?
There (have been) a few ignorant comments thrown from my friends here and there but nothing ever serious. But I’ve seen shit go down though. Like the one time I took a taxi and this woman was being humiliated after they burnt her house or something.
I try to stay well grounded in where I come from but try to push it forward, instead of sticking to what already is if that makes sense…
Give me an example
Ok, well, people in general get comfortable sub consciously and with the whole culture thing I think that’s where we get trapped into thinking things have to be done in a certain way when it doesn’t, you get me ? Culture isn’t wearing your dad’s hat. It’s buying a new one. 5 years down the line we won’t be doing the same shit though, hopefully. That’s why I’m starting this Waves Generation thing.
Tell me what you listened to growing up
I was listening to mad R&B type stuff, then I started listening to a lot of Blink182, Sum41. Then Istarted getting more into some Nirvana and a lot of electronic music. I really used to enjoy and still do enjoy some metal type stuff. I’ve never really been limited to a certain kind of music.
Did you listen to radio?
uhmm.. yeah. Pop is always good man. I never hated it like alot of people do. Yeah, I enjoyed the radio. But I was
always on the internet
trying to find out what the next best thing was at like 14, 15. I always say if you can appreciate a Britney song as much as you can appreciate a Radiohead song then you’re on the right track.
What did you know of Fela Kuti before Red Hot Riot came along?
That stuff was always around me at home. African music was always around me playing in the house or at a family function. I knew quite a bit about Fela. His doccie changed my life man, proper! Whenever I make music I always ask myself if it would have as much of an impact on people as his music did but I’m not about to run around the stage naked though.
What sort of answers do you tend to come up with as far as impact or longevity?
Longevity is one of the most important things to me. In my music I always speak about living forever. I think my music is still growing, man. When the time is right it will be bigger than everything but right now i think it’s impacted a few people already.
I produce everything.
How did you hone the skill?
I started playing guitar seven years ago. I was in a few other bands and things and learnt to write songs and music. I started playing around with computer programs and watching Terrence.
Which artists and producers do you rate today?
I love Dev Heynes man, from Blood Orange. I love Lil B too. I’m like obsessed. A$ap… a lot of rappers. Death Grips are cool, The weeknd, Drake, Frankie Rose, and Lex Lugar kills it as a producer! Kendrick Lemar, Little Dragon, M83, santigold, Clams Casino, Neon Indian, Morrissey, Fally Ipupa – he’s dope. It always feels like like the African artists are a given you know, cause it hits home.
Is the music by Popskarr and Petite Noir different?
Yeah. Petite Noir is a genre that I call Noir Wave which is the New Wave with an African Aesthetic with a bit of pop. Popskarr is nu disco with a pop structure and writing content is different too. I’m in two different mindsets when writing.
What gives it its African aesthetic?
Me. Being African first of all and just using all my influence and digging a bit deeper into where im from.
What, if any Congolese or Angolan music can you count as influences for you?
The only Angolan stuff I really listen to is kuduro. Other than that it’s more the Congolese stuff. I like a lot of Papa Wemba. The musicality in African music is amazing man, it’s on another level! But Fally is cool, Pepe Cale, most of the stuff my parents listen to. The crazy thing is I used to get irritated hearing that stuff as a kid.
What we should know about the new EP?
It’s going to be amazing, and just something new. Not coming from South Africa or just Africa but the world!
Till We Ghosts will be the debut EP by Petite Noir