Ninety One or 91 is a boy band from Kazakhstan which has been in the business since 2015. So, why haven’t we heard more about them? They sure as hell deserve more coverage.
The band consists of four members, namely Alem, Ace, Zaq, and Bala. Ninety One is the start of Q-pop or Qazaq-Pop which is a budding musical genre which fuses western and Asian pop music.
The group is known for their badass dance moves, their fantastic music and for challenging gender norms in a country that has routinely been called out for violating the freedom of speech and religion.
“When they went outside they were dressed in a way that people in the street don’t usually dress. In our country, it’s not accepted that men can dress brightly,” said the band’s producer and creator, Yerbolat Bedelkhan to the BBC.
“People in Kazakhstan are very protective of what they believe Kazakh men and women look like. People’s bodies and behaviour is policed by the public in a sense that there is always this notion of ‘Is that a Kazakh thing to do?” Kazakhstani gender-related issues specialist, Aizada Arystanbek told the BBC, adding that many of the people who protested against the band were young men who were brought up with very different ideas of masculinity.
A documentary about Q-pop titled Face the Music has a student saying: “My father served in the army. When I show his photo, I am proud to say that… he’s a real man. What about Ninety One? I can’t say they are not men, but they can’t be called men either.”
Ninety One has had to face cancellation of their concerts and even death threats, apart from routinely being mocked for their sartorial sense. The word ‘gay’ has been used against them as an insult.
However, despite all that they face, the band continues to shine and many agree that they have done good work.
“[While] I don’t think they have actually changed gender norms… [they have] challenged conventional gender norms in terms of their appearance and behaviour. They have presented an alternative version of how a Kazakh man can look and act – and thus opened up the conversation [about this],” said Megan Rancier, Professor of Ethnomusicology at Bowling Green State University in an interview to the BBC.