Rochelle Nembhard has been collaborating with South African musician Petite Noir (Yannick Illunga) for six years, working as his creative director and producing strong visuals for his latest album, La Vie Est Belle / Life Is Beautiful and other releases.
Rochelle moves around between Africa, Europe and Asia and her global travels have clearly influenced her immersive and distinct ideas. She discusses her creative process, how she works with Petite Noir and which artists she has her eye on.
How did you start working in the arts?
I can’t pinpoint a particular time I started working in the arts. I feel like I have been a part of the arts my whole life. I have always appreciated the beauty in the unknown. As I got older I had visions that would jump in my head and take me hostage till I released them into the physical world. I guess I started working in the arts when I accepted the visions I had and decided to let them manifest into reality. When I started university, I was a muse to many painters and sculptures, this was around the same time I started Drone Jewels and a creative collective called Drone Society.
And how did you become Petite Noir’s creative director?
Yannick and I have been partners for six years. We have loved and worked together since the day we met. Our creativity is intrinsically linked. We ran a creative collective called Drone Society in 2011 which over time morphed into the conceptual movement we have today which is called ‘Noirwave’.
Yannick would always work on the music and I would work on the vision which has taken on many forms including visuals. Once he had completed his album, Yannick asked me to come on board as his creative director. This made complete sense to me and was very similar to what we had already been doing, the only difference was that I had a name for it and I would be working with larger teams of people.
How has your style developed over time? Your art direction feels bolder and more futuristic and has shifted away from your previous more minimal music videos like The Fall.
The Fall was the first video I directed. It was all very new to me. I had a grand concept that did not work out and decided to strip down the idea to the bare minimum and keep it as minimal as possible hoping that the message would still get through to the audience. That was a great lesson for me because it taught me you don’t need much to create.
With the visuals for Best and La Vie Est Belle, I had grown a lot mentally and spiritually and decided at all costs not to compromise my vision. I want the stories I create to inspire people to achieve whatever they want in life. We think in pictures so it’s very important that I stretch people’s mind when presenting a visual. In most cases, the viewer is totally present when watching something, this opens up the opportunity for me to bring the viewer into the future and give them something to aspire to.
Best and La Vie Est Belle have come out a lot more bold, daring and futuristic.
This has been my recent frame of thought which is why the visuals of Best and La Vie Est Belle have come out a lot more bold, daring and futuristic. I see no barriers. The worlds I create in my mind come out in the video. I hope people will see that it all starts in the mind. As clichéd as it sounds if you can think it you can achieve it.
The visuals for Petite Noir’s recent album and music videos have been out of this world. Can you get into the creative process behind the artwork and the music videos for La Vie Est Belle / Life Is Beautiful
When I came on board for this project I wanted to create something that matched Yannick’s sound. The music he creates is hard to define which is why he has his own genre called ‘Noirwave’. He doesn’t have to fit in any genre and I applaud that.
I intended to create a new genre of visuals that would compliment the Noirwave movement. The first step was the album cover – I had been speaking to fine artist Lina Viktor for a few months and we had built a solid, deep connection.
The connection between myself Lina and Yannick is extremely pivotal to the work we create together.
Her work inspired and stretched my mind; it had its own frequency and went beyond all definitions. I wanted to create work that went beyond labels so I asked her to come on board to create the album artwork. She agreed… The rest is all divine intervention.
The connection between myself, Lina and Yannick is extremely pivotal to the work we create together. It is as though we were all made for each other in the creative sense. Wherever we are – mentally and spiritually – pours into the work. This means that we keep a constant flow of communication daily and push each other.
We are a close-knit creative family.
The Best video came to me from above. I have no other words to describe the process. I had a deep desire to show Africa in a different light. Although the video looks futuristic, the concepts are from ancient and traditional Africa. In some ways, I view aspects of ancient cultures as being superior and far more advanced than today’s. In many ways, we are just catching up. Whoever I work with to carry out the vision is very important to the success of a visual.
I always know I’ve done a good job when there is something Divine about the visual.
I always pray before I look for people to work with and view whoever comes on board as ‘Chosen’. I fully adhere to the saying ‘many are called, few are chosen’. I always know I’ve done a good job when there is something Divine about the visual; when it feels as though something is working in your favour because the message you have to bring goes beyond yourself and is meant for a greater cause.
With the La Vie Est Belle video, I worked with director Alan Del Rio. I explained my concept to him and told him I really wanted to push the boundaries of reality with this video. He translated my vision over and beyond my expectations. The video we created is very different from his previous work and from the work I’ve done, so in many ways we pushed each other and stretched ourselves into another dimension and for this I am forever grateful.
How do you work out the course of a project when there are differing opinions on the direction?
I view everyone I work with as a teacher and fully understand that to learn and grow you should open yourself up to different people’s perspectives. I try my best to be as open as possible and welcome opinions in terms of getting to the desired goal or vision. I don’t have a problem with opinions as long as the main goal or vision is not being compromised.
Sometimes we don’t realise how much we use labels as a security blanket.
‘Noirwave is freeing yourself from the ego who loves to stick itself to suffering and build an identity from it.’ Could you explain to us what you mean by this quote? What does Noirwave mean to you and has its meaning changed over time?
Sometimes we don’t realise how much we use labels as a security blanket. Labels good or bad tend to define us without our consent. When we constantly complain about those labels or relive what they have done to us, we are subconsciously empowering them.
Noirwave is freeing yourself from all labels.
Noirwave creates art that moves us into the future.
Noirwave is creating a new narrative which in most cases may be hard to define.
Noirwave understands and respects the past but does not stick to it and definitely does not let the past define it.
You’ve worked and lived in Asia, Africa and Europe. How do all the cultures you are exposed to affect your work? What place do you feel most at home in?
Every place I have lived in has greatly influenced my work. Subconsciously I sprinkle aspects of each place I have lived into whatever I create. That being said, Africa and Asia have definitely had the greatest impact on my work. Both cultures are extremely rich and diverse and very dear to my heart. They both have the similar culture patterns running through their veins and take spirituality and the concept of Ubuntu (there is no me without you) very seriously.
I realise that Africa is indeed home.
I frequently mix concepts of Africa and Asia in all my work whether it be in the environments I create or the stylistic approach I take. Due to tons of travelling I used to believe the saying, ‘home is where the heart is’ but as I get older and go back to Africa more frequently, I realise that Africa is indeed home. It is the only place my heart feels at total peace and harmony with the environment and I feel at one with everything around me.
And have you seen any significant changes in the South African creative scenes?
Most definitely! Young creatives are finding their voice. There’s a new wave of energy in SA that is opening up a magnitude of possibilities. People are not afraid to talk out and are more confident in their skin and culture. Old ideologies and philosophies are being broken down and the youth is more defiant than ever.
It’s an amazing transformation to watch and be a part of.
This creates the breeding grounds for art to flourish as people have a lot to say! With the internet being ever so prevalent, there are no barriers between the art and the audience. So many more people are waking up to what the continent has to offer. It’s an amazing transformation to watch and be a part of.
Have you found it easy to keep your own artistic integrity and direction, as your work gets more exposure?
‘If I give up on my vision – my vision will give up on me’. The first time I heard those words they struck a cord within me.I have kept them close throughout the course of my short career. I don’t believe in compromising my vision for the sake of exposure. I believe your integrity is all you have, especially as a creative. I trust my direction and if people want to dilute that, then whatever they have to offer me is not in line with my purpose and subsequently not right for me.
As a pretty inspirational female creative director, do you have any words of wisdom to other young women trying to break through in the music and arts industry?
Woman are powerful. We are all future matriarchs. Tapping into your feminine energies will only enhance your work to a higher level. The gifts God has given us as women are naturally artistic and intuitive. Use everything you have been naturally endowed with. Everything you need, for whatever race you decide to run, is already within you.
You are complete, you just need to turn within. There is no need to seek validation from anyone else but yourself!
Anything we should be particularly excited about that you’re doing next year?
There is a lot on the cards but nothing I can openly discuss. Expect greatness.
Which other creatives are you really into at the moment that we should know about?
Lina Viktor, Zanele Muholi, Loyiso Mkize, Maïmouna Guerresi, Travys Owen, William Kentridge and Amy Sall.
Follow Rochelle on Instagram @dronegoddess
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