My meeting with Ahmad Al Kaashekh was the first of the video calls I have done in this series, and there are only two emotions I can associate with the experience. The nervousness of meeting somebody I have followed on social media for the longest time and the excitement of getting to have a conversation with them. I like to think that the excitement out-performed the anxiety because it was one of the most interesting conversations I have had in the past few months.
Describing himself as ‘observant, hungry and ambitious’, Ahmad is definitely a ‘jack of all trades’ and possibly mastering each and every one of them. He is a social media content creator who is highly experimental with his content. He is a singer, an actor, a director and a stand-up comedian in his free time and a science enthusiast and professional by the day.
He garnered fame and shot to popularity with his reaction videos during the pandemic. Although they were targeted at an audience from Kerala, it was well-recognised for his gentle responses to the creator’s content without bashing or cancelling them, a practice that is common on the internet today. For him, creating content is a discourse.
“It is not a one-person thing. It’s a conversation between me and my audience and anybody else who is involved. I want to understand how other people think and what their thought process is like when they put out a specific type of content. That is what content creation is for. A way of reaching out to people while also maintaining my opinions and identity on this digital space.”
When I asked Ahmad for an origin story about how he started his journey, he told me a very mundane and very humane story about somebody who wanted to express themselves and was looking for a platform. He was a content creator before the boom of TikTok. And that meant that there was a lot of behind-the-scenes learning that had to go into it, including shooting, editing and scripting videos before you actually post them.
“So coming into this space I had no ulterior motives or lofty goals. As a millennial, I wanted to learn how social media works and try things out. One thing I learned quite early on was that just because something works for someone, it will not necessarily work for you. For me, creating content on social media was never about making a career out of it. It was always about meeting people that I otherwise would never have been able to meet. It really opens up opportunities for you and puts you in a different place.”
Ahmad had initially started his account just like all of us, to share a part of his work with his friends and loved ones. While he was working in advertising, they kept posting his ads on their official pages, but he wanted to claim agency over his own work. For him, the growth, appreciation and validation that comes in through this platform are more than enough.
“It is truly wonderful knowing that I am making content, and somebody out there is seeing it, appreciating it and valuing it. I am truly happy with the feedback I get. I know some of the content I put out doesn’t do as well as the others, but this is about my page and me. I try to put out my most authentic self on the internet, and that means, I experiment with my content and have a lot of fun doing that.”
One of the things that have always kept me coming back to Ahmad’s page was the way in which his reaction videos were always structured. It takes a lot of courage and empathy to make content about content that already exists in a public space and has a huge fan following. However, Ahmad has truly mastered the magic of social commentary. I tried to simplify his formula a little bit and why it seemed to work so well for him. It is the time between his videos. They don’t come one after the other, rather, there is a large gap between each of them. It is not that there is not enough content to react to, but it really is about picking and choosing your battles between what you want to talk about and what you don’t. When I asked Ahmad about it, he put it even more succinctly, using the analogy of ‘the tiramisu’:
“So Christina, do you have tiramisu every day? No, right? It’s a treat that you have once in a while, and that’s what makes it so special. This is the same logic I apply to my reaction videos as well. I believe in balance. When you keep making content about content that already exists, it is very easy to lose yourself. So I have to practise moderation. Also, I want it to be my own. All the jokes, the catchphrases, the editors’ cut, all of it, I want it to be unique to me. That means I really have to invest time and energy. Also, content creation is supposed to be fun. The shorter videos, reels, music, science videos et cetera give me the creative break I need.”
It is exactly after this discussion that my nervousness got ahead of me and I asked Ahmad quite the messy question about how he views his position as an influencer on social media. He was quick to correct me in the same gentle way as he does in his reaction videos, with a little snark and a lot of well-intentioned humour. For Ahmad, there is a huge difference between a social media influencer and a content creator. He does not consider himself the former, rather, he is a creator through and through.
“My page, it is not about product placement or ads. I do not want to influence anyone, rather just entertain. When I create content, it is about making sure that everyone leaves with something of value. My first thought is about how to get the message across in the best way possible and how to make sure everybody understands it.”
As we closed our conversation, I was left awe-inspired by somebody who was able to juggle so much at a time. Ahmad is truly the multi-tasker this day and age needs. He left me with one thought, something that I will forever remember and apply, to always be curious. The world is full of small, curious things and if you wander long enough like Ahmad said he does, something magical is bound to happen.
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