First Africa, then the world. The phenomenal success of his inventive remake of Toto hit “Africa” launched Karl Wolf into the international spotlight, but this was far from a case of ‘overnight success syndrome’. This multi-talented Montrealer has long enjoyed serious peer and music industry respect in Canada as a producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and singer of true skill and vision. Thanks to “Africa,” Karl Wolf’s music is now reaching the global marketplace, and his new album, Nightlife, dramatically confirms he’s the real deal.
Karl has established himself not only as a talented songwriter, performer and producer, but also as a successful entrepreneur and businessman. He has recorded and released two albums previous to Nightlife – Face Behind the Face and Bite the Bullet, and has amassed an impressive list of accolades around the world including Top 5 records in Japan, Lebanon, Egypt, Czech Republic and Dubai. He was also voted one of the World’s Most Influential Arabs by ArabianBusiness.com’s Power 100 (2009). His accomplishments in Canada are no less impressive, his single “Africa” was certified 3X platinum, and secured the #1 spots on MuchMusic (video), the Adult Contemporary Charts (radio) and iTunes influential Pop chart (sales). The rest of the world has clearly taken notice, as Nightlife has already been released in the Middle East and Japan, with Australia and Europe to follow.
His third solo record, Nightlife is an artistic triumph. Musically, it’s an accessible and highly melodic fusion of r ‘n b, hip-hop, pop and dance music elements, a sound equally at home on pop and urban radio and the club dancefloor. Vocally, Wolf’s sweetly soulful delivery is a constant pleasure, while lyrically he digs deep, probing matters of the heart with real flair.
Karl Wolf is a lover, not a fighter. Not for him the aggressive macho stance of so many current urban artists. Beneath the suave and smart-dressed exterior beats the heart of a man unafraid of letting his vulnerable side show, as is illustrated vividly on Nightlife. The album features such soul-searching songs as the gentle ballad “Jealous” (“forgive me for protecting my heart”) and his odes to love lost, “Gone With The Wind” and “Hurting.” On “Love,” Karl issues a heartfelt plea for peace, declaring that “Together we can change this world around and you know it.”
Giving his lyrics real resonance and authority are the facts of Karl Wolf’s personal life story. He was born in war-torn Lebanon and raised in Dubai before moving to Montreal with his family when he was 16. Karl may now have achieved the international stardom he has worked for so diligently, but he’s not about to forget his roots.
That is the theme of “My Ethnicity,” a song of which he is especially (and justifiably) fond. On the track, Karl repeats the sage advice of his father: “Don’t forget where you came from, don’t forget who you are.” To Wolf, the song is about “making people proud, making them realise you don’t have to be a particular race to be accepted in this world. We are all beautiful, we’re all peaceful. Maybe this can change the perception of people around the world.”
Subtle proof of Wolf’s cultural pride comes in the title of Nightlife’s lead hit single, the rousing “Yalla Habibi.” It is Arabic for “let’s go,” and Karl notes that “it must be the first song with an Arabic title to hit the Top 40 in Canada. It makes me happy to think of Arabic kids here seeing that, and going ‘that’s the language we use at home and it’s on radio and TV.’ It can give them hope for their future in Canada as an immigrant.”
In turn, the region of his birth has taken to Karl Wolf like a cat takes to cream. In 2008, he joined Akon and Ludacris on a star-studded lineup that launched MTV Arabia, and his hit clip for “Africa” was the first ever to be broadcast on the new station. “It’s such a great thing for them to accept me,” says Wolf. “I’m a perfect poster boy for them, as I’m half-Arabic, half North American. East meets West!”
That was just the beginning, as, in November 2008, Karl received the MTV Europe Music Award for MTV Arabia Best New Act. Appearing live at the award show in Liverpool was a life-affirming experience for Karl. “I performed in front of Sir Paul McCartney and Beyoncé. Just an incredible and amazing night. Ten years ago, I watched that show on TV with one of my best friends, and I remember telling him ‘that’s going to be me up there one day.’ He said ‘Karl, you are so full of yourself. You’re such a dreamer.’ To be on that show gave me such a sense of accomplishment. It proved my vision was true.” The success of that vision has certainly been propelled by the global reaction to “Africa”, which has enabled Karl to show his performance prowess while touring across Canada with such artists as Akon (with whom he continues to tour extensively), Flo Rida, T-Pain, Girlicious and Sean Kingston.
The international demands on Karl’s time necessitated a different approach when it came to recording Nightlife. Both Bite The Bullet and his 2005 solo debut, Face Behind The Face, were primarily one-man endeavours, with Karl locking himself away in his Montreal home studio, writing, crafting and recording virtually everything himself. He was indeed a Lone Wolf then, as befitting the name of his studio and entertainment company.
“On those two records, I proved to myself I could do it from scratch,” he explains. “With my skills in production and songwriting, I didn’t actually need to outsource anything.” Those talents had been previously recognized in Quebec, where Wolf had scored major success writing and producing for such artists as Gabrielle Destroismaisons, Sky, Mitsou, and the phenomenally popular Star Academie show.
For Nightlife, Karl’s attitude was ‘let’s have some fun. Find some other producers who can bring something interesting to my music.’” His ability to spot emerging talent paid off handsomely, as he assembled a top-notch team of producers, writers and guest vocalists and rappers for the album. One key collaborator was co-writer Lukay (“Hit-mayka”), while producers included I-Notchz, Billboard, Capo Decina, and Underground Procedures. Vocalists and rappers making cameo appearances include Kaz Money, Rime, Culture, Imposs, Loon and Sway.
Nightlife was literally assembled across different continents, as Wolf explains. “Someone would start up a beat, then e-mail it to wherever I was in the world. I’d be in Dubai for a press conference, I’d write lyrics to it and send it back, then it’d be mixed somewhere else. My vocals and my writing remain my own style, while the producers bring something fresh and current.”
The result of all this teamwork is an album of rich sonic and musical diversity, one packed with songs that sound both contemporary and timeless. A perfect example is Wolf’s typically imaginative reimagining of another ‘80s classic, “Maniac Maniac,” given an exciting dancehall vibe courtesy of Culture. “You can’t just take an oldie and re-make it. What’s the point? I want to do something fresh and keep my integrity as a producer and artist intact,” says Karl.
The fact that the ‘80s are back in fashion thrills Wolf, who proudly calls himself an ‘80s Baby. “That was such a beautiful moment in my life,” Karl says, and he explores this passion on a Nightlife track called just that. His “80’s Baby” references Michael Jackson, Karate Kid, and hair bands, and it boasts a cool synth-pop meets r ‘n b vibe.
Merging the musical past and present in a fresh manner is a Karl Wolf signature, one destined to take him far. For a soundtrack to your own nightlife, check this one out.