Former SM Entertainment trainee Ace has become a top star in his home country of Kazakhstan after leaving the South Korean talent agency in 2015.
Azamat Ashmakyn was one of the first hopefuls to make it through SM Entertainment global auditions in Kazakhstan in 2011.
He trained for years with the company in South Korea and was part of SM Rookies, rumored to be debuting with NCT before leaving the company in 2015.
Upon returning to Kazakhstan, he joined Q-Pop band Ninety One, the first K-Pop inspired band in the country (formerly called KTI Boys).
Ninety One refers to the year 1991, when Kazakhstan won its independence from the USSR. It started the movement of Q-Pop (Qazaq-pop), a blend of K-Pop, Western pop, and traditional Kazakh music. Its name represents its aim to create liberating music.
The group has five members, two of which were part of the K-Top Idols project in 2014, the main goal of which was creating idol groups. Ace is a main vocalist and the leading dancer of the group.
Ninety One has won numerous national and international accolades for singing and rapping…
But it has also faced a lot of backlash from the Kazakh public for going against societal norms and not being “real men”.
In 2016, during a national tour, protesters in the conservative southern city of Kyzylorda demanded that their concert be cancelled, arguing that the band’s look was “too gay” to represent Kazakh men and that the name Ninety One was inappropriate.
And in Shymkent, a group describing themselves as “youth activists” took to social media in an attempt to force concert organisers into cancelling a Ninety One gig, claiming that the band’s appearance was an insult to Kazakh heritage.
Despite this, Ninety One – and Ace – has hordes of fans. Their success has only increased over the years, creating room for more Q-Pop artists to thrive.