Petite Noir: Living life artistically out of the box

Yannick Ilunga and Rharha Nembhard held a fashion-forward red wedding.
Yannick Ilunga and Rharha Nembhard held a fashion-forward red wedding.
Image: Instagram

I was first introduced to genre-bending visionary Petite Noir - real name Yannick Ilunga - late last year after catching a glimpse of his unorthodox red wedding to creative director sweetheart and regular collaborator Rochelle "Rharha" Nembhard.

It wasn't like the bloodbath that was TV show Game of Thrones's infamous "red wedding" episode. It was rather romantic, off-kilter and fashion-forward. The couple went on to have three equally lavish wedding ceremonies all over the globe.

"We just wanted to be unconventional and do things the way we do them. No boxes. We just put our influences into it," Nembhard explains.

A mistaken Facebook friend request in 2010 started the couple's fairytale love story.

"We had mutual friends, but we had our first conversation on Facebook," Ilunga recalls.

"I added the wrong Yannick Ilunga on Facebook," explains Nembhard.

"It clearly wasn't the wrong Yannick Ilunga," he jokingly interrupts before Nembhard continues: "I was living in Thailand at the time, he was living here and we just chatted online for like a year until we met up in person."

The couple have been collaborating in music and art throughout their eight-year relationship. Their latest collaboration is a four-part visual album La Maison Noir/The Black House.

It premiered on Friday on MTV Base and will be online on October 5.

Yannick Ilunga coins his sound as Noirwave.
Yannick Ilunga coins his sound as Noirwave.
Image: Supplied

"The visual aspect of it is just about Yannick's life since he was a young boy and growing into adulthood. It's about the different stages of life told through a Congo Cosmogram because Yannick's family roots are in Congo. Everything is told through water, fire, air and earth. So there are different elements in the video," Nembhard says.

"It's an album about rebirth, coming back stronger and pushing forward. Just very positive. Even the features that I had were with people that I found progressive and I thought they will sit well in this world that we are trying to create," Ilunga adds.

From his debut 2015 EP The King of Anxiety to his first full-length album La Vie Est Belle/Life is Beautiful, Belgium-born and SA-based Yannick, under his stage moniker Petite Noir, has coined his sound as Noirwave.

"It's a movement that we started, which means no borders and no limits. Just taking it to the next level, not only in the African context but a world context as well," he says.

The 28-year-old musician holds touring with American singer Solange Knowles, performing at the inaugural Afropunk Joburg last year and winning a South African Music Award as some of his musical highlights.

"I think both locally and internationally, my sound is still growing."

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