At the start of the extended video for Karl Wolf’s hit song ‘Yalla Habibi’, the pop star hops off a private jet and is welcomed to Dubai by a business suit-clad beauty, who informs him that the ‘members of the board’ are waiting for him. That sets the tone for the rest of the video, which plays on Dubai’s rep for all things bling and ostentatious.
So I’m surprised when I arrive at 7am on the first day of Ramadan on the set of the video for Karl’s current single, ‘Go Your Own Way’- a remake of the Fleetwood Mac classic - to find it rather low-key.
There are no video-ready ‘honeyz’. There are no trailers for Karl to emerge from, cigar in hand, and he hasn’t rocked up in a limo stating he’s ‘ready for his close-up’. In fact, he’s been here since 5am. The flash cars are limited to the new Shelby Mustang, which is busy doing burnouts in front of the camera, in stark contrast to the couple of utilitarian trucks just out of shot.
At least the ‘Africa’ singer maintains some air of rock ’n’ roll by defiantly sporting tight leather trousers under the boiling Dubai sun. He flew in the evening before and admits he came via Emirates business class, rather than aboard the lavish private jet of the videos.
“Some of it is like that, the glamorous life - when we’re ready to do a concert, and the things that people do for you - but I don’t own a Bugatti,” he says, refering to the ‘Yalla Habibi’ video. “Maybe, one day.”
While Karl has directed seven of his videos himself and studied film at university, on set today David Zennie is the roaring voice maintaining order in challenging conditions.
“Guys! Wake up! I’ve lost my feed!” he yells as the crew film a scene involving a horse rider draped all in black, wearing an unexpectedly low-rent halloween mask.
I grab the approachable Karl to try to make sense of the bizarre scene unfolding among the tributaries of dust tracks near Meydan.
“The concept of the video? I find the Shelby and drive it along this road, then a kind of headless horseman comes right in front of my car and takes off into the desert,” he explains. “That’s where the video begins. Then there are all these girls from different areas showing up in the desert. I’m trying to go somewhere but, as you’ll find out, I end up somewhere different.”
Random girls? That sounds more like a Karl Wolf video - yet they’re nowhere to be seen. He explains he’s not had a chance to audition them and jokes that normally producers go for skinny model types, whereas he prefers a curvier ‘hip hop’ girl.
Later in the studio, as I sneak a look at the early shots with Karl emerging in slo-mo from the Mustang, I can’t help wondering if it’s all going to be a little cheesy - a little like my personal impression of ‘Yalla Habibi’. Yet Karl is adamant that he has creative input in his videos and cuts out any cheesiness.
“I told Zennie, there is no cheese in this video. Any cheese, we take it off. I don’t care if it looks great, we take it off. I said: ‘Be like a hater, be like a Karl Wolf hater’.” Well, the ‘members of the board’, aka the viewing public, will be able to make up their own minds - the video is expected to be completed towards the end of Ramadan.
KARL WOLF ON LIFE, LOVE AND GOING HIS OWN WAY
You’ve said that your next album will take a new direction - maybe a darker piece of work. Where does that come from?
I’m a spiritual guy and people don’t know that. Here’s the problem: I love pop music and I produce pop music, I create it and I write for others. I’ve sold millions of records as a producer and writing for others. But because I’m a pop artist, [people] categorise me, saying, “oh, you’re not talented, people produce for you”. I hate that stigma and it almost feels like “why don’t I grow my beard and play the piano and not even care about image, then you guys will think I’m talented”. It’s really pathetic.
‘Go Your Own Way’ is a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s song. What are your other influences?
Tonnes! George Benson, Earth, Wind and Fire, Prince, Michael Jackson, Chicago… I love to remake 80s songs, just because the kids and the people who listen to my music who are aged 13 to 30 don’t really know the songs, so when I remake them in a club sound or musichall or R&B it’s just kind of fresh.
You spent a large part of your youth in Dubai. Do you have the same group of friends when you return?
I guess you lose touch with friends… My first love was here, she got married recently to a dentist, which killed me. She was my first love, my high-school sweetheart, and we wanted to be together. I look at cards from the past: “Karl, I will always love you no matter what happens.”
Do you ever think about settling down?
All the time. It’s so hard for many reasons. It’s hard for a girl to have this guy travelling the world, and I can’t find anybody I can trust. We’ve done well and it feels like they are there because of something.
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