Spending more time in the air than on the ground may be tiring for some, but for Bahraini multimedia entertainment mogul in-the-making, Ammar Al-Aradi, this is the only way up. Literally. With one foot firmly planted in the region’s simmering music scene and the other in the booming Arab film-scape, Al-Aradi is making waves with his business savvy, industry know-how and special brand of Khaleeji-tinged sarcasm. I caught up with my long-time social media connex, @ammar456, to get the low-down on what makes him tick!
Ammar! We’ve been Twitter buds for a couple of years now and I still can’t keep up with you! Introduce yourself to our readers.
Sometimes I can’t keep up with myself! To put it briefly, I was also making music, and filming at home. Realistically, you were expect to find a job if you studied to become a doctor, engineer, banker etc, so I ended up taking Finance and stayed in the banking field for a good 6-7 years. Although I did pretty well, moving up the ranks to branch manager, treasury dealer, department head and so on, I felt something was missing, so one day I gave in my resignation and decided to try my hand at something else.
I started Bahrain-Talent in 2008, which was a portal to promote local artists and musicians; we had many in the country, but they had absolutely no recognition or support. As that grew (pretty quickly), more and more artists started contacting me to be on the site, and companies started connecting to have these artists featured on the site, for promotions, etc, making me an indirect artist agent.
From then on I’ve put myself in numerous fields in the entertainment industry. I started putting together events and concerts for local artists as well as international names (Akon, Rashid Al Majed etc) in both Bahrain and the UAE, as well as starting to film music videos, short films and promos for artists and companies (some of which have been featured on MTV Arabia, MBC, etc). You can see some of those on my site www.ammaro.com
I’ve started up a company based in Dubai called Red Pill Entertainment to hold down everything I’ve been working on, and I have a good team together now. We’re pretty much involved in quite a lot of entertainment events and activities in both Bahrain & the UAE.
I’m also currently working on a feature film with an Italian/Canadian producer. I’m setting up a couple of very interesting new entities in the media and entertainment field, and structuring a venture capital fund for new innovative ideas from the region. So yeah, that’s putting it briefly.
You have your fingers stuck in several media industry cookie jars. Is there a specific niche you feel fits your personality best, and why?
I’ve always been passionate about film; I remember when I was around 8 or 9, my dad bought a video camera. I ended up being the family’s designated cameraman, and also used to direct silly short movies with my younger brother and sister.
My recent hand at video work was putting together music videos, films and so on, with quality that stands up to anything produced internationally. We have a ton of content we can produce in the region, but there’s still a weak link when it comes to quality. It’s definitely getting better, a lot of the stuff that comes out of the UAE, for example, is hitting the mark, but there’s still a lack of visual excellence in other parts of the Arab world. We do our part to try and help elevate the region to those international standards.
Your Twitter bio states, “A millionaire (in Zimbabwean currency.)” In your field of work, is it the passion or the green that speaks louder?
Haha, a million in Zimbabwean currency probably amounts to about 3 US dollars. Passion is pretty important; that’s how you end up making great content. Money was never really a factor in my decision, since the world of Finance was a more secure and well-paid field. However, getting myself intricately tied up in a number of entertainment ventures and eventually turning them into businesses has been a great payoff.
Although you describe your short film, ‘The Last Vimto,’ as ‘silly,’ it remains culturally apt and significant, particularly in the Gulf. Do you feel media products, be it visual or audio, needs to be familiar to create a connection?
Not necessarily, but it helps. There are certain ideas and concepts that people from all around the world can relate to, no matter what – we all watch Hollywood and movies after all. Bringing a more local touch to these products however gives off a surprise to most people; it’s something they didn’t expect to see, which turns into more of a feeling of ownership; “Yes, this represents us”. Watch Desert Heat’s videos for example – sure it’s hip-hop music, but the themes are all Arab, and they’re even dressed in traditional robes in the video. Right now, I’m working on a few very regionally focused film concepts; keep an eye for them in the festivals in 2013!
You’ve worked with a host of Gulf hip-hop artists, including Emirati rapper Sain. Do you feel there is a future for the genre in the international music scene?
I’ve worked with tons of hip-hop artists all the way from Morocco down to Oman. They’re generally very passionate and some of the music they produce is on an international standard, and it’s only getting better. And hey, if a certain Korean “rapper” can get his music to play all over the world and get the most viewed YouTube video of all time, you can be pretty sure someone from here can do it too.
You are every inch the businessman, particularly with your background in finance. Was it a natural transition into entertainment for you? And did you face any resistance from your direct community?
They’re totally different fields! It was a lot of hit and miss at the beginning but you tailor it as you go along. Again, this field was never really ‘structured’ as entertainment in general is such a young part of the economy. You need to think creatively to make it pay off.
In terms of resistance, sure, lots of it, in fact; moving from a solid banking career to (what seemed at the time) a very flaky concept kept flagging me with question marks, especially from family. A few years later I think they’re more adjusted to the fact that this is what I want to do (although my mother still drops in the occasional “So when are you considering going back to banking?” casually every now and then).
You’re on a flight that has made an emergency landing in the middle of the Atlantic. There is only one seat left on your safety raft and Saudi rapper Qusai, Lebanese song bird Julia Butros, Syrian artist Omar Offendum, Emirati Ahlam and Tunisian El General looking at you expectantly. Who do you save?
The hot air stewardess who was smiling at me when we first boarded
WORDS: REEM SHADDAD
ILLUSTRATION: TULIP HAZBAR
To see more of Ammar’s work visit: www.ammaro.com