November 15, 2013

Petite Noir

Petite Noir is a young artist and a star to become. Born in Belgium, grew-up in Cape Town, and recently moved to London. His music has also done all these miles. Often compared to Ian Curtis for his voice, everyone has tried to describe his music, but it kept all its secrets. African beats mixed with a British rock soul will only be an outline to trying to describe it. A perfect symbiosis.

Petite Noir is carrying an infinity of influences, from Tabu Ley (a Congolese artist) to Drake. The gap seems wide but the movement that he created, Noir Wave, has the aspiration to erase this musical canyon. Would he be the definition of the new ‘world music’ ?

6 o’clock, Pigalle. In this area of Paris, where sex-shops rubs the most well-known concert halls, a crowd start gathering slowly. TV, radio journalists are everywhere. The Inrocks festival has started.

I’ve been asked to come directly to Domino’s offices, near the venue where Petite Noir will play, la Cigale. After multiple interviews and photoshoots, plus an intense Parisian night out, Yannick seems harassed.

You arrived yesterday in Paris?
Yeah, then went out straight away. Went to Carmen.

Did you visit Paris? It wasn’t your first time here?
No, no. I’ve been here a few times, but it’s my second time playing.

How did you start everything?
I started in Cape Town. Just messing around with guitars and stuff like that when I was around 13-14. There was quite a big punk scene at the time in Cape Town. Also a lot of black punks started coming out at that time.

They were your inspirations?
Yeah, a lot of punk stuff, and like a lot of metal stuff. I didn’t really like pop music at that time.

Did you listen to an album that made you think ‘this is what I want to do, I want to make music out of my life’?
Uh (long pause)... Yeah (laughs). There was this album by a band called Box Car Racer. That album really, really inspired me. And there was Dude Ranch from Blink- 182, at the time. Back in those days, that was what got me into making music. Bit of R’n’B stuff here and there, but back then I wasn’t really into R’n’B. I started getting into it.

Do you still listen to these artists?
No (laughs). But sometimes I’d revisit, go back and spend some time to the music I used to listen to.

How did you meet Yannis?
Ah, from FOALS. I met him in South Africa once when he was down, because his mom - I think his mom is South African. And then I went on tour with them in December.
It was amazing, really nice. It was like 'welcome to the music world' kind of thing, you know? But yeah, he’s really great.

When you met him, you were still playing in the band Popskarr?
(Laughs) Yeah.

He saw you playing?
I don’t know if he came... Maybe. I think he came late. I think he arrived after we were finished playing. But I’m glad he didn’t see that (laughs). Because I don’t think he would have asked me to go on tour with them if he saw that!

But I’ve listened to one or two songs of this band, it was nice.
Yeah... For the time, it was cool. But I think I was just too cool at that time.

What are your influences?
I think I have stages. Like the whole metal/punk phase was, you know, my thing. There was a time when I started to get into electronic music, like dance, and house and stuff. And then there was a time where I really got into hip hop. But now I just listen to what I like.

But you’re still into hip hop?
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I try to balance - like if I find myself listening to too much Asap Ferg, then I try to download some - "download" I don’t download, I buy it (laughs). If I find myself listening to too much Asap Ferg, or Danny Brown, or whatever, I’d try to balance by getting... an Arcade Fire album, you know. I’d always try to keep a balance because otherwise I’m gonna lose my way. It’s all about balance. Everything in life is about balance.

How do you find new music?
Lately I’ve been slacking, but I don’t know. I think it’s just being in the industry...
But right now, I really like Drake. I think he’s my favorite artist. Like my ultimate favorite.

Your album is due out this month?
Not anymore. It got pushed back to next year, so. It’s probably going to be out next year. There’s just a few things I need to finish, just to make it perfect, but yeah, it’s gonna be worth it. But there’s definitely going to be new music coming up before the end of this year / early next year.

The songs that you released earlier like 'Til We Ghost' and 'Pressure', when did you record it?
I recorded that last year. Just in a studio in Cape Town.

And this album you recorded it in London, so do you think there will be a different vibe?
Yeah, definitely. Back then I think I was going through different times. There is a lot of meaning in the songs ...

Did you use any African instruments in your songs?
Yeah, definitely, we used this Algerian... We used a few, we used some Algerian stuff, some Congolese stuff, South African stuff… Just a few percussion things.

How does it feel to initiate a new sound?
I don’t know yet. I don’t feel like I’ve put it out there yet. So when the album’s out then I’ll tell you, but right now...

Who would you like to collaborate with?
(Laughs) Drake. Nah, I'm joking. Well, Drake, yeah, but... I don’t know. There hasn’t been an artist in a while, besides Drake, that has really been like ‘wow, this stuff is amazing’...

What do you like the most about his music?
Just everything about him. I mean, he’s just a good musician, he’s talented, you know. I don't know, he puts himself in a very vulnerable position, and everything is calculated.

Do you aspire to be like him?
Nah, I don’t want to be like him. I just want to be my own person really. But he inspires me, definitely.

So you went to London to record your album, did you move permanently there?
Yeah, I just moved in.

You don’t miss South Africa?
Yeah, sometimes - I mean, I’ve been living in South Africa for like twenty years. It will always be there. My parents are still there, my family’s still there.

Do you reckon you’d have made the same kind of music if you’d move to England instead of South Africa when you were younger?
No. Well, maybe, South Africa is pretty similar in some way. Especially Cape Town… I don’t know, probably not... actually… (Laughs) Sorry, I’m really tired!
But, I don't know, probably not. Actually, definitely not. I don’t think it would make sense.

Why not?
Because I believe that if you want something, everything aligns itself to it. So if I was to stay in London, I probably would have had different things coming up, probably would have met different people... I mean as a kid I didn’t really like listening to African music, but then when you grow up, you start to appreciate it. So, I don’t think that would have happen if I was in London to be honest. South African house music was also an influence of mine.

So, Noir Wave, this movement that you created is an alliance between African and European influences, so is it a way for you to say that if for example if one’s black he doesn’t have to rap, or if one’s white he can use African rhythm... Is it a way to open people’s mind?
Well, basically yeah. I mean people are fucking racist. It’s my contribution to changing that type of stuff, if you know what I’m saying. This is my contribution to the world, to the universe. To help change situations like that. That's like when I started. First, it was like meant to be mixing my African influences and other music around the world and pin that together. And then I sort of went deeper into it and started the whole movement. And then now it’s more of like a new generation of African artists.

I think you’re really representative of our generation, this globalized music.
That’s what I wanna do, that's what I wanna be. I don’t want to just be another musician that just has no meaning to what they’re doing. This might sound a bit weird, right - but, I’m not the kind of person that would just go to like Somalia and help - I would love to - but I’m not in that position to go to like Somalia and help children. So, this is like contribution to that. Yeah, I think it’s working out. It’s also a way to say fuck you to the previous white generation that basically fucked up all this shit today, because it's their fault that this stuff is like this, not the kids' fault.

Will your crew Capital Of Cool be a part of your album?
Yeah, definitely. Like, Rachel, my girlfriend, she does a lot of my art direction. She doesn’t do the art, but she designs the stuff, a lot of stuff are her ideas. Jordan too, he's also quite a big part - like these jackets we got made and stuff. And Osandi is a pretty good writer. So, we sort of work together...

Do you have any music recommendations?
Twigs. FKA Twigs is really good. She's one of my favorites right now. There’s an artist called Fatima al Qadiri, from NA, I think. And she makes really, really good music. I think she’s probably coming out with a record this year, or next year... A lot of music is really boring nowadays. People don’t have serious - I don’t know.

Serious goals or serious things to defend?
I think the music industry is really saturated at the moment. So, you really need to differentiate yourself between all that stuff happening. But yeah, it doesn’t really matter (laughs). I keep listening to the same albums all the time! Good music is timeless. I’ve been listening to a lot of rap music lately. I really like the Asap Ferg album, it’s really good. Odd Future are still pretty good. Then there’s... obviously the Arctic Monkeys. I heard the Arcade Fire album is really good, but I haven’t heard that album. There’s this Congolese artist called Tabu Ley which has been a really big influence on me. But he’s really old now, so. But he made some amazing, some crazy music.

What kind?
A lot of the music from the Congo is influenced by Cuban music. It’s like rumba kind of style. He's really good. There’s Amadou & Mariam, also pretty amazing. They're crazy - I think those two are on some other level of mind... They’re just crazy. But I don’t think Damon Albarn should - I’m just gonna shut up (laughs).

He shouldn’t do what?!
They’re crazy, and plus they’re blind, which is even more of a mind fuck for me. If I was blind, I don’t know what I would do with myself. They’re amazing. And Spoek Mathambo from South Africa is really really good.

I was listening to him actually, yesterday. He’s good.
Yeah, he’s cool... And there’s Danny Brown. Danny Brown is really cool... Stuff like Charli XCX, that stuff irritates me so much.

You’re playing Belgium...
On Saturday.

With a French artist Moodoïd.
Oh! Like Indian kinda... That song with a bit of Indian (laughs).
Yeah, that song was very interesting. I just YouTubed it a few days ago that’s when I saw it. That was really interesting.

How is your tour going?
It's going well, it's going well. France has always been amazing. Belgium's also been crazy... All those places are really good. But right now, I'm not touring right now. Just only doing a few shows. And then next year, when the album comes out, that's when we'll play tours and stuff.

Photos: Aminata Diallo

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