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Mohammed Musaed Al Mubarak, aka DJ Aki is the star of Super Station FM 99.7. One of Kuwait’s most popular radio jockeys, he continues to rule the airwaves with the Breakfast Show. Last year, during the lockdown, when Kuwait was trying to come to grips with the new virus, DJ Aki maintained a steady and calming presence on the radio, spreading smiles and creating awareness. A television and radio show host, and Department Head of Super Station 99.7 FM, DJ Aki has lived life on his own term. A multifaceted person, he is a painter, artist, DJ and producer. Over the years, Aki has pushed boundaries, defied expectations, experimented while creating his own space, and found his own voice. He spoke to Arab Times about his journey as a young Kuwaiti creative who has tried to use his voice and role for the greater good of the community.
Arab Times: You grew up in a conservative family that had certain expectations from a single male child. Was it challenging for you to go against the tide?
Aki: I grew up in a very traditional family with my mom and dad. I am the only son in the family with three sisters. My family is traditional. Everything needs to go by a set of rules and by social standards. Yes, it was challenging for me as a child.
AT: Why was that?
Aki: As a child, you want to explore everything around you and then when you hit a certain age, you are put into a box that defines what a boy should do or shouldn’t do. For instance, it is expected that boys should follow certain professions, play certain sports, get married etc.
AT: I understand what you mean. It is about stereotypes, like pink for girls and blue for boys.
Aki: The question for me is, why can’t I do what I want to do? What is wrong with that? As a child, you are innocent, and you don’t think of these restrictions. Last year, my sister was blessed with two beautiful girls. Just watching them grow up in front of me taught me many things, including the fact that you’re born to be who you are. If you want something, then go for it. You need the freedom to experience things. That’s the only way you as a human will learn, and that’s what makes you different or special or more successful than others. I was stopped from expressing myself, and that was very tough because I had this tremendous energy inside of me. I always wanted to do multiple things at the same time. I never set any limits to what I wanted to do. And so it was tough for me to have these kinds of boundaries.
AT: Going back to your childhood, you said that you did something different in your growing up years while other boys were doing something that was expected of them. How were you different?
Aki: Boys of my generation are expected to do certain things. Boys were expected to play soccer, volleyball, football, but I was never interested in that. I wanted to create art. I wanted to be on stage. When I was in kindergarten, I was the head of the band. I used to play the piano. I wanted to perform. I wanted to be around music and art. That was very hard at that time. Not to forget that I am the only son in my family. I had cousins doing things one is supposed to do. But I couldn’t do all of that. So I used that energy in my work. I decided if I want to do something, I have to be the best at it.
AT: Going against social pressure and expressing yourself is not easy. You have done that, and that requires a lot of courage.
Aki: It takes a lot of energy. Don’t ever think that people will ever understand what you’re doing. It will never happen. I don’t think that’s the case, just in our country. This is what is happening everywhere around the world. I always believe that parents want the best for their kids. But you need to know that you’re not in this world to do what everybody else does. So you have to express yourself, you have to do what you are good at because that’s the only way for you to be recognized. A lot of people reach out to me asking about ways to be a DJ or s presenter. Of course, as a teenager, that’s what I wanted. I wanted to be famous. I wanted to travel everywhere. I wanted to be recognized. And that’s fine. There is nothing wrong with this. When you grow older, you start to understand that there are specific goals and objective for you as a human being. As human beings, we have a lot of energy inside of us, and we are capable of doing multiple things in our lives. Once you know what you like, what you don’t like, you’ll start to have a clearer vision of who you are as a person and how you can channelize your energy.
AT: I think for those who want a career in radio, they have to explore their creative side— do theatre, music and the things that art offers to find their space. Tell us, Aki, what brought you to the radio?
Aki: I have worked in media since 2010. I started as a trainee in one of the private stations. I began to write scripts for shows and segments. In 2012, I got the chance to be a TV host. And then I shifted to the radio. I never thought I would join the English station. I presented a demo that was initially rejected because I was too loud. Then they did a rerun and felt that’s what we need in the morning—someone who wakes people up.
AT: How did the Super Station change your life?
Aki: It changed my life in many ways. The fact that I was promoted to head of department last year meant a lot to me. The radio has taken me to places that I don’t think TV would have taken me. In 2017, I was picked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan to go to Tokyo, Nada, and then to Hiroshima to meet a survivor from the Hiroshima bomb. My visit was a day after Barack Obama visited Hiroshima, which was like the first time a president visited Hiroshima after the bombing. And once I came back, I spoke of my travel and visit to Japan, and it was such a privilege to do so. In 2014, I was selected by the French Embassy to attend an essential and prestigious film making programme in Paris. That trip expanded my vision.
AT: Kuwait is a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual country, and we have people of so many different denominations living here. Radio plays a massive role in bringing people together. Do you agree with that?
Aki: I totally agree with you. Kuwait has people from all over the world. It is like the universe in a small place with a fantastic diversity. Many people here don’t speak English or Arabic and don’t have access to the correct information. They probably don’t even speak Arabic, and their only way to gather information is through their language. This is where the radio assumes importance. This is when foreign services come in very handy. We are the source of information for these people. I remember two incidents. One of them was in 2018 when we had this huge rain and fl ood. My colleagues and I used to come to the station every single day. We would announce and spread the information in five languages on three different shifts during the entire day. This shows the importance of radio and foreign language services. Yes, I entertain people, but my main job is to spread accurate information and answer queries. These two crisis situations — the fl ood in 2018 and the pandemic last year, defines the essence of my job. During the lockdown the previous year, my colleague DJ Maha and I did our shows every day and gave correct information.
AT: Aki, you were very active at the height of the pandemic. You were at the station every day, sharing important information on air. How challenging was it?
Aki: First of all, I’ve never lived a pandemic. In fact, a lot of us didn’t know what a pandemic was until this hit us. For me, the most important thing was to deliver the right news on the radio. I put my life at risk and that of my family because I knew I had to be there for the people. I went back home every day, not knowing if I had it, but I had to go back to work because I felt many people depended on me. A lot was going on, lots of changes happening. I had to be there.
AT: A lot was going on, and giving the correct information is very important.
Aki: Late last year, I attended a workshop organized by the World Health Organization where they discussed ínfodemic — the information pandemic. During the pandemic, there has been a lot of misinformation, rumours and misguiding information that worsens the situation. Fighting the rumours and wrong information is essential. Sometimes people do it to increase followers on social media — I believe this is a crime. And this has added more responsibility to my colleagues and me. We have to give the correct information to people because they depend on us. Our job is to pass on the information and keep on doing it every day until the pandemic is over, and we can go back to our everyday lifestyle or regular schedule.
AT: Aki, what is it to be regarded as the face of Super Station? What does it feel like?
Aki: I think it’s an honour when people look up to you. It shows how much love, respect and appreciation, people have for you, and for me, that means a lot. I have to tell you that I did not study English. I am self-taught. I learnt the language from books, video games, music and movies. I studied in a government school, and back then, the quality of English teaching wasn’t good. Today, I feel proud that I have reached so far. If you keep working hard and people start giving you the feedback you want, you know you have done it right.
By Chaitali B. Roy
Special to the Arab Times