Yannick Ilunga, who is better known to strangers as Petite Noir, is living the dream of most aspiring musicians. At just 24 years old, the singer-songwriter-producer, who was born in Belgium to a Congolese father and Angolan mother who raised him and his four siblings in Cape Town is releasing his debut album, La Vie Est Belle/Life Is Beautiful this Friday.

We’re chilling in a boardroom eating peanuts and chips as Just Music employees type away on their Macs and prolific creative director and Petite Noir’s girlfriend, Rochelle Nembhard, sit in the adjoining room. Petite Noir looks happier than the last time we sat down for an interview four years ago.

It also shows in his broad smile and carefree dancing in the video for his single, Down, which was directed by Cape Town photographer, Max Mogale in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic Of Congo. It’s easy to see why life is, indeed, beautiful for the NoirWave artist right now.

Signed to British record label, Domino (also home to Arctic Monkeys and Blood Orange) and distributed in South Africa by Just Music, La Vie Est Belle was more inspired by Johannesburg than by a Congolese movie of the same name.

In between handfuls of peanuts, Petite Noir shares how the title came about: “I knew about the movie – I just happen to be Congolese,” he laughs mischievously, “It’s a tricky one. The saying is also popular. The movie didn’t inspire me to name my album, the storyline inspired me.”

Then he pauses as if deciding if he should reveal the next part: “When I was writing the album, I was looking through the window at Rochelle’s parents’ house in Johannesburg. They have this amazing garden. The day was so beautiful. When I looked outside, the sun was shining, the water was blue. It was just a perfect view. That’s where I got the name from. I’m blessed to be alive.”

A self-confessed “divergent” artist even from the days when he was a part of Popskarr, Petite Noir is putting a stamp on his identity. Even before he started playing shows with Solange Knowles or his Noirse remix appearing on her Saint Heron mixtape.

Petite Noir says: “I had been doing stuff with Solange for a few months. She was helpful in terms of support and stuff. She would invite me to play with her and ask if she could use my song for that Puma campaign. I weighed it out like what’s this going to do for my career? She was nice.”

From the eponymous first EP to the Mise Au Noir EP, The King of Anxiety EP and now, La Vie Est Belle, his has been a journey of self-discovery first.

He remembers: “I went to London and got signed. Then we started recording my first album which was supposed to be The King of Anxiety. But the label didn’t like the 10 songs I recorded, so we took the five best songs and made that The King of Anxiety EP. After that, I recorded this album. I recorded 30 songs and they hated them. I knew I could do better. I got back to Joburg and wrote the whole album and sent it back to the label. Then they said it was amazing.”

Of those amazing songs is the layered, baritone-heavy audio and visual brilliance of a song called Best. He wears nothing but a loin cloth as he runs through other worldly spaces – simultaneously meeting Masai women and morphing into others.

His skin is glistening black – as if daring mainstream pop culture that praises the Yellow Bone to stop him. In the video and on his album cover, Petite Noir’s body is placed onto a slab of green malachite stone (“symbolising leadership and transformation and found in the DRC”) and he ascends into the heavens as others look on.

Best was inspired by xenophobia and Marikana,” he explains, “I hate that [xenophobia] word. It doesn’t even make sense. Who is foreign? No one is actually foreign. But that’s another story. I was quite angry.

“Obviously, my family lives here and any of them could have gotten attacked at any time,” he continues, “It’s also about Marikana – not being heard. I haven’t heard a single interview of a miner’s wife or their kids… I’m on that slab on malachite as a black body, being vulnerable.”

His vulnerability stretches to songs like Chess where he sings about a boy making a fool of him. This wasn’t a Frank Ocean situation. He explains: “I was arguing with my girlfriend on Skype. I was looking for lyrics and read out exactly what she had written on Skype.” So he took her words about him, “made it more musical but didn’t change a thing. She is credited. It’s a free Petite now. Mentally. I care about the right things.”