Frankfurt, Germany: Ahmad Sultan is sitting in a Frankfurt luxury hotel lobby , and he’s apologising. “I’m sorry for this interview. It’s a con,” he says, in a mixture of English, French and Arabic. But he’s grinning broadly and his eyes are twinkling.
He knows he’s not giving me the juice that could have come from his first nomination at a major music awards show -- where are the nights partying with Rihanna, the custom suit fittings, the sunglasses indoors on a rainy German day?
Sultan -- not his real name, but a play on a typical Arab name that reflects his love of music (soul) and surfing (tan) and which he chose to distinguish himself from a well-known uncle, M’Barek Ammouri -- hadn’t even met his fellow Best Worldwide Act nominees on Saturday, a day before the MTV EMAs . “I’ve met my pillow and the bed, now we are friends,” he wisecracks.
He’s in a position to do so, because he recognises he’s the underdog, and is having fun with it.
“I’m gonna be like a kid in a circus,” he says of the show, which includes performances from Taylor Swift, Psy, Muse and Carly Rae Jepsen and is in fact, circus-themed.
After winning the Middle East-North Africa fan vote, then the next round, beating musicians from Africa and Asia, he’s now going up against Russia’s Dima Bilan, Han Geng from China, Restart from ...oh, and Rihanna, representing North America. The phrase it’s the taking part that counts may have found an appropriate poster boy.
“The happy thing for me is we are here with a song in Darija, in English and in Amazigh. We are here with a song recorded in a stuio by an indie artist in front of four heavyweights. This is the beauty of the story. If we win, [it is] the victory of the music, only the music. It’s going to be something crazy to tell. Damn! It’s a fairytale.”
His eyes are twinkling again, and though he says he never had a dream to be a star -- only to be a successful surfer -- he’s got the makings of one, just because his joie de vivre is so infectious. I can see him presenting these awards in a few years, but success is unlikely to take him too far away from his roots as a village boy making argan oil and stopping off at the bakery for his family -- things he says are part of his daily life now.
“The young people of my country, they have an example, they have a right to dream, and this is important. Tomorrow, a guy from a small village who wants to do music and says, ‘I want to go to MTV’, nobody’s gonna laugh. Because a crazy guy done it before.”