Red Bull Music Presents Petite Noir | La Maison Noir: The Gift and the Curse

It’s been a year in the making.

In November last year, Yannick Ilunga (aka Petit Noir) and his creative director and wife, Rharha Nembhard, met with Iconic at Red Bull Music Studios in Cape Town to begin talking about a film they’d been wanting to make for some time. They felt the timing was right: Yannick was ready to release a new EP, his first since his 2015 La vie est belle / Life Is Beautiful studio album.

 La Maison Noir, The Black House.

La Maison Noir, The Black House.

Their idea was big, ambitious, layered and personal. It was also an important formative development; Rharha and Yannick were also in the middle of penning their “noirwave manifesto”, a formal elucidation of a movement they’ve been pioneering for some time. Noirwave started as a way for Petite Noir to give a name to his genre-defying style of music - it has since taken on a life of its own as a cultural movement which honours the focused intent of African artists claiming and creating high art through sound and visuals. The manifesto summarises it thusly: it is “The abandonment of retrofitted Western narratives”.

What followed was several months of planning and drafting to allow a story to take shape, to break down and build up what visuals meant in a metaphorical and physical sense and how to realize it in the real world.

 Spitzkoppe, Namibia.

Spitzkoppe, Namibia.

Ultimately the narrative that took shape is a story of birth, the struggles of life, death, and rebirth. The visuals took were realized in the Namibian desert over a two-week shooting period, where four of the songs from the La Maison Noir EP were arranged to tell the four-party story of life. A symbol appears repeatedly at the start and end of each story segment - this is the Bakongo Kosmogram, a literal diagram the story of life being told in this film.

This project was a collaborative effort in taming and shaping many wild ideas; while Rharha worked closely to refine the imagery and intention through visuals and wardrobe with longtime collaborator Gabrielle Kannemeyer, while narrative was edited and scripted by Tarryn Naude. Eclectic visual artist Manthe Ribane was happily included in the project to create and choreograph dance performances, and is herself a featured performer in the film. Ultimately the project was co-directed by Rharha and our own Timothy Weyer, who crafted and oversaw the technical execution of the project.

 On set in Moon Valley, Namibia.

On set in Moon Valley, Namibia.

The final picture comes from our talented director of photography Deon van Zyl, supported by focus puller Matthew Macdonald, and a nearly six-week post production process shared by Iconic’s Andrew Kirkby, Alex Fynn and Timothy Weyer, with colouring by Kyle Stroebel of The Refinery.

The entire team worked extremely hard on set in Namibia, and it was made possible by our amazing Namibian production crew, headed up by Nadia van den Heever and Guy Nockels of NamibFilm - having a local team familiar with filming in the region and ready to problem-solve was invaluable.

 The art of collaboration was key on the project.

The art of collaboration was key on the project.

The film first screened at the Keyes Art Mile in Johannesburg on September 27, followed by premieres on MTV Africa and BET Africa, and was made available for viewing on Red Bull Music’s Youtube channel on Friday, October 5 - as of the publication of the article the video’s accrued over 1 000 000 views in it’s opening week.

We don’t like to slip into cliches such as “this has been an incredibly journey” over here, but… this has been a crazy ride for the whole team. We’re beyond humbled by the overwhelming responses the video’s garnered so far. It has featured on Nowness, Vice, Fader, and Clash Magazine (who called the film “simply audacious”), and are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with such a stellar team, and for the tremendous support we received from Red Bull to breathe life into this incredible film.

 The La Maison Noir | The Gift and The Curse crew on set in Namibia.

The La Maison Noir | The Gift and The Curse crew on set in Namibia.