Feature Opinion

La Maison Noir: The Gift and the Curse

Pulling heavily on the classical elements of fire, earth, wind and water, intertwined with his own take on the Congolese Cosmogram, Petite Noir (real name Yanick Illunga) has created a four-part visual masterpiece rich in symbolism, colour and energy – an oeuvre that calls for collective transcendence as it shines a spotlight on the unconquerable African spirit.

Directed by Tim Weyer and Rochelle Nembhad, “La Maison Noir: The Gift and the Curse” is a novel release, the first of its kind in South Africa. Part one, Kala (Birth), sees Petite Noir reflecting on his displaced youth as he looks his younger self in the eyes. Dressed in striking red material reminiscent of flames, they are in stark contrast to the barren landscape of the Namib Desert, that surrounds them.

The song for Kala, ‘Blamefire’, is fast-paced and upbeat – leaving you almost breathless as it combines frantic rhythms on the drums with distorted synths. Loud, bright and assertive, it tells of the unparalleled energy, uncertainty and unsullied optimism of youth.

In the second part titled Takula (Life), he looks to the women who shaped him and their struggle to be heard in a world that drowns out their voices. Earth-coloured clothes covering their bodies portray the women as an extension or embodiment of the Earth, while a militaristic element acknowledges their power as well as their restraint.

The song ‘F.F.Y.F (Pow)’ resumes the momentum of its predecessor and is unapologetically loud, raw and honest. It commands attention with a contagious energy that speaks of the power of women – a power that cannot be contained.

The third part of the album – Luvemba (Death) – is an introspective piece and sees Petite Noir examine his journey as an artist while questioning his place in the world.

Projections of people and cities – memories – flash erratically over him, as he stands alone in the dark ruins of an abandoned building. This dream-like sequence is disquieting as you feel the weight of his turmoil and uncertainty. This tone is pursued in song which accompanies Luvemba, ‘Hanoii’, is fast-paced and fraught as he questions the price of fame.

Rich in religious symbolism, the fourth and final part of the album, Musoni (Rebirth), is the transcendence of Petite Noir from the youth in ‘Blamefire’ to the artist before us. We see him standing in pristine water, reminiscent of a mirror and his reflection dances while he remains still, indicative or a sort of release. It calls for the unburdening and healing of the soul; the baptism of one into the collective. This is the birth of the Noirwave, an oasis in the desert of life, bringing people together, bonded by struggle and the hardships they face.

‘Beach’, the song for Musoni, provides closure to the previous songs. Although punctuated by frantic and decisive verses from rapper Danny Brown, the song is lighter, slightly slower and more nuanced than its predecessors. With a more dream-like tone, ‘Beach’ allows you to finally exhale.

Honest and emotionally stirring, La Maison Noir is an ode to Illunga’s life and his journey, culminating in the artist we see today.

It is a vibrant, energetic and visually stunning glimpse into his mind and one of the most thoughtfully constructed pieces of art I’ve seen all year.

Watch La Maison Noir: The Gift and the Curse below.