A Summary (with Commentary) of Ninety One’s June 2022 Zamandas Interview

16 October 2022 ☼ Artist: Ninety One

If you follow Ninety One you know that our translators are awesome, but few in number and overworked. The overworked” part came into play after the guys announced their split from Juz Entertainment this past spring and suddenly went into PR overdrive: there was this interview and also this interview and new songs and Space episodes and behind-the-scenes videos and many, many Instagram stories, and pretty much none of this new content had English subtitles: whoever was doing the subbing during the Juz era either didn’t follow the guys to their new company or has been assigned to other duties. So when Ninety One appeared on the Zamandas podcast show, and I saw that it was two hours and the timestamps included references to Bloody January, the Mad Men drug arrests, the Kazakh language, and the financial aftermath of the Juz split, I was simultaneously elated and gloomy. Elated that they were talking about these topics, and gloomy that I was in no position to demand the hours’ worth of work it would take to translate the interview.

However: the hard-working Zamandas folks, whoever they are, threw me a lifeline, in the form of Russian and Kazakh subs. So I have machine-translated said subs (Google Translate for the Russian subs, Yandex Translate for the Kazakh subs), done my best to match subtitle with speaker, and compiled the whole thing into a spreadsheet, which you can see here. What follows is a summary—not a translation, since I can’t present a machine translation as definitive, especially given that I’m not in a position to check for accuracy. (Please do send me any and all corrections.) But I can at least give you the gist of what they said.

Strap in! This is going to be long, since I will also be adding commentary, some of it valuable, some of it snark for my own entertainment. I’ll put timestamps in throughout so you can cross-reference. Headers are excerpts from Google Translate’s take on the original (Russian) timestamps listing, which is below the video on the YouTube page.

Intro (0:00) / The culture of saying hello (0:16) / Cancellation of concerts in Turkistan (3:08)

We begin with our hosts, Kana Beisekyev (hereafter KB) and Yerzhan Aldabergenov (hereafter YA), greeting Ninety One. I can give you no context whatsoever on KB and YA, except that the former is a documentarian and filmmaker of some experience; for example, in 2016 he uploaded a short film about a young Kazakh man who migrated to New York and now works for the NYPD. This interview is not the most recent thing he’s released involving Ninety One but we’ll get there. Here’s the channel description of the Zamandas podcast:

ZAMANDAS podcast is an author’s podcast by Kana Beisekeev. A platform where we discuss topics that are very interesting to us. We take one step further and continue to study modern culture and those who create it. Turn on. We are with you. All the same young, noisy, lively and completely different.

It continues to fascinate me how young, lively, noisy” Ninety One continues to meet the criterion of completely different” when, one, they’re rapidly becoming so mainstream the Guardian feels it necessary to include them in photo essays about Kazakhstan, and two, they’re so firmly within globalized pop traditions.

Anyway. The introduction leads to a more abstract discussion of how greeting habits in Kazakhstan have changed over time, which I do not have the cultural background to put into context, so let’s see what the guys are wearing:

picture of Ninety One sitting behind microphones in the Zamandas studio

Bala and ZaQ are appropriately casual, Alem is slightly overdressed but looking all the better for it, and I eagerly anticipate the day when Ace’s present or future girlfriend convinces him to burn these jeans.

We’re ready to start the interview proper (~2:04). KB (who’s in the white shirt and jeans in the picture above, YA is wearing the shorts) wonders if they should start in Kazakh or Russian. Language balancing and the social and political implications thereof will be a topic of this interview and I am HERE FOR IT. Let’s start in Kazakh!” YA decides, and then Bala says Annyeong hasaeyo” and throws hearts at the camera, because Bala, and everyone cracks up.

The first big topic of conversation (~3:00) is the canceled Turkistan concert, which was supposed to have taken place later in the week. Turkistan is a city in south-central Kazakhstan, not far from Shymkent, with a population of about 220,000, and I don’t think Ninety One has ever performed there. ZaQ (who is going to do most of the talking this interview) explains that the concert was supposed to be accompanied by a meeting with young people in the library,” not necessarily a fan meeting, but it all got scrapped when the local akimat (roughly, city council mayor; thanks to Sara for the correction) claimed to be getting lots of complaints about Ninety One’s bad influence. It’s basically the issues of the 2016 tour all over again. So it makes sense that they would go on to discuss the 2016 tour.

National hate, threats and cancellation of concerts in 2016 (4:55) / At what point did the hate disappear? (11:00)

There’s not a lot of new information here, though there are details I hadn’t heard before. ZaQ says that Yerbolat Bedelkhan was getting threatening phone calls from people at the ministry” (~5:13), and I’m not sure what ministry, or what level of government, he’s referring to. The guys report seeing people take bribes to protest them, which they’ve mentioned before, and that in Semey their car was chased; in Shymkent they actually hired armed security guards. I don’t love the 91 movie for its relentless glumness, but I don’t think its portrayal of Ninety One as harassed, defensive, and anxious that year is off the mark.

The timestamps indicate that they’re going to talk about the threats and harassment going away, but they actually don’t seem to; possibly because the threats and harassment haven’t entirely gone away, although this was filmed before the problems with the summer tour in Atyrau and Shymkent. Instead KB compliments the guys: Thanks to you, Kazakh-language music has reached an incredible level” (11:38). Which is very sweet but unenlightening.

One of the drawbacks of having me as your unreliable narrator is that I don’t know what’s being left unsaid about the Kazakh entertainment industry and the reality of touring in a country where a lot of the economy is deliberately opaque. I’ve speculated on the Q-pop Discord that Yerbolat Bedelkhan has connections that Ninety One lost when they went independent, hence a revival of the touring headaches. Or it could be a matter of their being asked to pay bribes and not paying them, of their not being able to pay the usual bribes, since the quasi-fall of the Nazarbayev family in January disrupted the set bribe-paying ecosystem. Or all this speculation is way off the mark. Y’all look at me skeptically and let’s move on.

The problem of the Kazakh language (14:44) / Did you have to dye your hair? (16:51) / How Korea strengthened itself as a nation (19:00)

This section is mostly ZaQ talking, although Bala contributes an anecdote about watching Kazakh-language performers on TV once, over his mother’s shoulder, and being unimpressed. ZaQ explains that, as a teenager wanting to be creative and in entertainment, he basically saw his options as going abroad, or giving up on the creative” part. What Yerbolat Bedelkhan offered was the opportunity to make music closer to the way he wanted to make it, while remaining at home and performing in Kazakh. He makes it sound as if Kazakh-language content, but modern pop” was not only baked into the whole concept of Ninety One from the start (which I believe) but also shared and articulatable by the members at the time (which I have a slightly harder time believing, given that Bala was a teenager and Ace had been back from Korea a year and a half at most).

ZaQ then goes on to talk about how we” (I assume he means the group) originally assumed that Kazakh-language performers seemed stuck in a rut because there was something in the language itself, but that wasn’t the case. It was just that, prior to Boss Yerbolat, no one had actively tried to put together a modern pop infrastructure (based on Korean idol pop) for a Kazakh-language group before.

(This discussion is briefly derailed when Ace sneezes at about 15:30, which would not be worth derailing for if he did not sound like an indignant Pomeranian while sneezing. It’s very cute, and KB can’t resist the temptation to tease him about it. I wouldn’t either, clearly. Ace’s expression afterwards is that of a guy who really wishes people would stop pointing out that he has the weirdest sneeze in Central Asia.)

Anyway. ZaQ is not mincing words: After coloring your hair and getting a tattoo, your nationality doesn’t change. This is stupid.” There’s some discussion of concealing one’s musical guilty pleasures (Justin Beiber, for KB) and then ZaQ goes on to discuss Korean soft power through pop (I’ve slightly edited the translation here):

What Koreans have achieved as a nation is to properly support each other. Develop your culture, country, and consciousness through a product, ideologically. That is, not to hide aggressively, but to show off your beauty and present yourself as attractive. Thanks to the support of the state and the population, Korea is now recognized on a global scale. Now, everywhere you look, this culture is present. Our young people want to learn Korean, go there and feel that atmosphere—see the people of the place, see the idols, and so on. Wants to be a part of that. It’s the same with American culture.

Ace chimes in that demand for Kazakh-language performers was originally assumed to be nonexistent (using the passive voice here because, again, I’m not sure who would actually be making these decisions) and Ninety One proved the assumption wrong. (Earlier ZaQ named Eaglez as one of two pillars of Ninety One’s success, Boss Yerbolat being the other.) Ace then makes an interesting statement (~21:34): We, of course, do not need such big money as foreigners, but the very fact that all the money will remain in the country and go back to creativity.” Which makes me wonder, given that they were talking about going to the United States last year and now they don’t seem to be, whether they’ve been doing some recalculations about how much they want a global fanbase versus focusing on their operations within Kazakhstan.

Creating your own brand (22:54) / Yerbolat Bedelkhan made the group inaccessible (24:33) / How did the band leave the producer? (27:33) / Did the group make money at all? (29:09)

An anecdote from ZaQ: Ninety One shared a bill with Yigor Creed, who is clearly influenced by global pop trends but performs in Russian, and half the audience left when Ninety One, the warmup act, left, prompting someone at Samsung to say, We should send our advertising dollars to these guys.” (Bless you, Samsung executive.) Ace is then mostly in charge of explaining that they’re eschewing harmful advertising, such as with cigarettes or alcohol products. You are free to snark at the fact that Ninety One now has an ad campaign going with McDonald’s, though I think the whole context of fast food is still different in Kazakhstan.

There’s a discussion about how Boss Yerbolat imposed restrictions on social media that the guys have since lifted on themselves. (Thank goodness; I doubt that Juz-era ZaQ would have been allowed to dote so openly on his wife, but watching him do it has been an unabashed pleasure.) Then at 27:33 KB gets to the big question: What situation did you leave [Juz] with?” Win-win,” replies Alem, and ZaQ agrees.

They don’t go into detail, but: they don’t have exclusive rights to the Juz-era songs, they have to split revenue from those 50-50. But they were able to take their stage names and social media accounts. KB wants to know, of the money they made for Juz, how much did they get to leave with? Ace replies: We never had the money we left behind.” ZaQ explains (seemingly choosing his words carefully) that they essentially were given an alllowance. There’s some discussion of their not being able to afford to buy their own places to live, and that they’re all still renting. Ace then defends the Juz arrangement, in part because it allowed Boss Yerbolat to financially support the group (as opposed to the individual members) in a way that would not have been available otherwise to a Kazakh-language group. His putting the money back into production, Ace implies, helped get Ninety One where it is now, so the guys have no regrets. I will point out here that the explanation I’ve heard of AZs departure in 2020 was that he was cash-strapped and didn’t see a bright short-term financial future for himself at Juz, so I’m not sure this gratitude was universally shared at the time. Also clearly if the Juz arrangement had been completely satisfactory the guys wouldn’t be independent now. But it makes sense for them to present a public narrative of appreciation for Boss Yerbolat’s efforts.

Two meta observations now: one, the pattern’s going to hold where ZaQ does most of the talking, especially about the group’s overarching philosophy; Bala occasionally shares personal anecdotes; Alem chimes in judiciously and seems largely relaxed; and Ace does the talking when the subject is more about matters financial or corporate. Two, up to this point the subs have been almost exclusively in Kazakh (meaning the speaking is in Russian) except when Ace is talking, and my ear still isn’t good enough to distinguish between Kazakh and Russian (especially since I think even when the guys are speaking Kazakh they use a lot of Russian loan words) but it comes off as if everyone’s speaking Russian except him, and this language-switching is unremarkable.

Ace says (~32:24), In theory, over time, when we become world artists, the price of our one song will cost at least 10 million dollars.” I am back to my question of how they’re balancing the local/global focus. Meanwhile Alem and Bala are sharing a water bottle, if you needed evidence of how comfortable the dudes are with each other.

How ZAQ got to Zhas Otan (36:28)

The discussion of how they were organized under Juz gives way to the question of state support: Ace is talking (again) about the early difficulties, and KB interjects (at ~35:51): Have you never worked with the state?” Unfortunately here the subs get very muddled: Ace and ZaQ talk at the same time several times, and Bala talks a couple times without being clearly subbed. ZaQ’s Zhas Otan duties come up in this context; I think he’s saying that he committed to Zhas Otan to have a platform to argue for a greater infrastructure for performers outside the toi business. It’s not clear how much success he had. The only other point I want to highlight in this section is ZaQ’s saying that the music entertainment is mostly informal—“Cash at the wedding”—and the implications are twofold: one, that the Kazakhstani state doesn’t get to collect taxes on musicians’ earnings, and two, that it’s hard for the music industry to grow when it’s mostly informal and illegitimate. ZaQ’s being upfront about Ninety One’s revenue in the Elle interview might be related to this, though that’s my speculation.

Lack of culture in concerts Irina Kairatovna, Shiza, Nurik Smit (41:45)

At 42:06 KB announces that Irina Kairatovna is his and YBs favorite band and he expects them on the show someday. This was apparently not idle talk, as Aldik appeared on the podcast in early September (and that conversation has Russian subs, and I do intend to feed them to a machine translator at some point, but one thorough interview at a time). This leads to a discussion of a then-recent IK/Shiza concert (Shiza was a guest in early August) in which there was apparently drinking and disrespect to the Kazakhstani flag. I don’t have the details (or the right context: in the American music industry their offensive behavior would probably be considered pretty tame), but it apparently pissed enough people off that I’ve heard speculation that the real reason for Ninety One’s tour troubles this summer was local officials associating them with those hooligans. Anyway, I appreciate KB and YA being willing to raise the subject; one of the benefits of following Q-pop is that fewer topics seem to be off limits in media interactions, hence interviews like this one being a lot more interesting.

Ninety One’s response to Hey, what do y’all think of that time that your bros acted the fools onstage?” comes in two parts. First up (at ~43:23) is Ace, who wants it very clear that such shenanigans Do Not Happen at Ninety One concerts, because they take their job very seriously, sound check, stage presentation, the whole kit and kaboodle, they are professionals. At one point KB tries to get a word in edgewise but no, this is important. By the way, Ace delivers this speech in Kazakh despite Bala’s having used Russian just a moment ago; I think the subbers started losing patience with him at this point, since future Ace speeches will not be nearly as thoroughly subbed.

Part 2, starting at roughly ~46:49, goes to ZaQ, who is in charge of explaining that presentation varies with genre; he doesn’t quite say that IK and Shiza should be given a pass because hip-hop uses different signifiers than other types of music, but that’s my read of his implication. It adds up to We wouldn’t do that, but we understand why they did.” It would have made sense for Ninety One, with their various sponsorship deals (InDriver, McDonald’s, Samsung, etc.) to try and present themselves as more wholesome and responsible than those troublemakers, and to some degree they do, but we know the Ninety One/IK brofest is alive and well (given that all four members of Ninety One plus Nurs Bazarbay showed up to Mark’s wedding celebration) so this definitely doesn’t seem like a full distancing. Keep this in mind when we get to the Mad Men discussion later.

Somehow this leads to ZaQ talking about how Ninety One was a postmodern group, and Alem and Bala start smiling fondly. We are now metamodern,” says Bala, in the tone of someone who has heard ZaQ talk about being metamodern approximately 6,000 times and is okay with that. It’s very cute, and also somewhat incomprehensible (as it was when he talked about metamodernism for Nurzhan Yerikuly’s podcast roundtable, and that interview still doesn’t have subs of any kind, sadly). The Eaglez who publishes an English-language version of What ZaQ Talks About When He Talks About Metamodernism will have my eternal gratitude.

Ninety One has become a social phenomenon (49:44) / How the group saved people’s lives (53:36)

The social phenomenon” description is from ZaQ, who talks about the group having transitioned from just-a-pop-group to pop-group-doing-commentary-on-Kazakhness, without, unfortunately, explaining how that happened (or how much of it was Boss Yerbolat’s initiative and how much belonged to the members themselves). ZaQ points out that there were seven treasures of Kazakh culture in the Men Emes video, although they were stretching the definition of Kazakh cultural treasure by having a Ford Mustang stand in for a horse (which my beloved blogger-source qforqazaq absolutely called at the time, by the way).

(As I was typing this, I was wondering, but what treasure was in AZs final segment? And then learned that one of the seven treasures is, I kid you not, HOT CHICKS. Really: сұлу әйел,” if you want to play along at home. I did a search and came up with this article: A beautiful woman is a beauty in every country, but whether she is beautiful or not, she is the fortress behind the man, the blessing of his fire.” Et cetera. So the next time you get annoyed that Ninety One are not necessarily doing the greatest job of recognizing women as equals along Western lines, keep in mind they’ve got this idea of paying tribute to and incorporating old Kazakh culture, and old Kazakh culture apparently came with a hearty dose of woman-as-possession.)

Anyway. ZaQ closes out by talking about a modern Kazakh identity (if you would like more on that point) and talks about the problems highlighted in the Bari Biled” video, including the problem of youth suicide. That leads to them talking about how Eaglez have reached out to the group and talked about feeling helped; one Eaglez (who’s shown briefly onscreen, I’m not sure of his name but he’s also in the recent tour behind-the-scenes videos) even went so far as to join their staff. Alem chimes in talking about Eaglez getting bullied (I think?) and says, Everyone should love themselves first,” which is a very Alem thing to say.

Self-expression through appearance (59:50) / Ninety One - Freemasons? (1:08:19)

YA starts telling a story of a group that inspired him, apparently: Tokio Hotel. Man, the Tokio Hotel phenomenon is just so underappreciated and underexplained in the States; I would be very appreciative of a Tokio Hotel deep dive. (They’re releasing a new single this month! And it’s a collab with Daði Freyr!) Bala and ZaQ grin in recognition; Alem says he learned to sing Tokio Hotel songs to become better friends with girls at school. Ace either missed the Tokio Hotel phenomenon or is still smarting about the sneeze jokes.

KB talks about dressing differently as a teenager (at ~58:32 there’s a cute moment where Bala has to teach him how to say doorag”) and Alem talks about how in 2015 Ninety One had to psych themselves up for going out looking like, well, Ninety One. ZaQ gets in an Abay quote and then (starting at ~01:04:54) has a monologue about how dressing differently isn’t breaking any laws, Kazakhstan has enough problems, why are guys carrying knives around? There’s some subs dropping out here, but Ace makes the point that Ninety One’s outfits are a kind of uniform, like a doctor’s coat, and both Ace and ZaQ separately suggest that Ninety One acts as a kind of easily visible scapegoat for those not wanting to face deeper issues of uncivil society.

~01:08:50: Bala’s talking. When he was about 18 (meaning, within six months of Ninety One’s debut), he saw a video condemning Ninety One for being like that” (it’s not clear what that” is. Effeminate? Satanic?) and the gap between his own ethical values and the read the video-maker took of his work depressed him. Now I want to go back in time and hug Early-2016!Bala. Ace then explains—and I’m reaching slightly here, because the subs drop out again—how the Aiyptama video featured graffiti on set, and it really was just the set designers trying to create a certain look with no ulterior motives, but somehow the stars got interpreted as Satanic symbols and the whole thing was absurd.

Then there’s a detour about… Freemasonry? ZaQ tells KB and YA that Alikhan Bukeikhanov, one of the founders of Alash, was a Freemason. Also that the world is full of secret cults. Does that imply that Ninety One should have been more sympathetic to viewers worried that their set design was proof of a secret Satanist cult? Conspiracy theories for me but not for thee? Let’s move on, we’re about to get to something important.

Mad Men and drugs (1:15:29) / What is Q-pop? (1:20:35) / Did you drink? (1:23:45)

KB brings up the Mad Men arrests. (For those who need the recap, Ruslan Hwang, the head of Mad Men’s company, and Moora were accused of manufacturing and dealing illegal drugs, and have been sentenced; Moora’s lawyer has alleged that the investigation was conducted improperly and the defendants were coerced and threatened; Khay was sentenced separately for possession without distribution.) The guys’ reactions are interesting, especially in contrast to their treatment of the IK controversy earlier. Alem says, I think they are on a bad path,” while looking around warily, and Bala says something along the lines about not being close to Mad Men because they were a bunch of Russian speakers, as if Ninety One never speaks Russian, I think my jury-rigged subs-to-translation process may have let us down there. For what it’s worth, the guys say they initially couldn’t believe the charges but do now, and I don’t know how much of that is sincere and how much is that it’s not in their interest to try and look into Moora’s lawyer’s argument. To be clear: I don’t think this is entirely dissembling; I don’t remember a lot of Ninety One / Mad Men interaction when both groups were active, and Boss Yerbolat may have regarded Ruslan Hwang as an annoying upstart. But it is some serious don’t-bring-that-to-us distancing.

There’s some discussion of Ninety One getting potential negative association with everyone under the Q-pop umbrella (which Mad Men clearly was) and the guys talk about how offended they are when someone accuses them of using drugs. So KB just asks outright (at ~1:23:38): have y’all ever used drugs? No,” ZaQ says decisively, and the set goes quiet for a second before KB says, Thank God.” And then Ace says that welllllllll sometimes the guys drink in secret but that’s normal and Alem admits to smoking but not where vulnerable Eaglez can witness it. I appreciate the dudes’ honesty, even if it does make them look a teeny bit hypocritical here.

(Also, I’ll admit that if you’d ask me to predict the vocalist who’s also a secret smoker, I would’ve picked Ace. I’m not yet covinced he doesn’t smoke, given how frequently he’s coughing in the background of Instalives and other videos.)

The influence of the band on listeners (1:26:49)

We get another Bala anecdote (~1:25:43). Let me go ahead and quote the translation of the Kazah subs directly: As soon as we started to dye our hair and wear earrings, those who in life blushed and felt like a woman, began to come out openly… They did make-up and started doing it every day. They probably have their own feminine whims.” Y’all can freely object that this is not the greatest way to talk about either gay fans or gender-nonconforming ones, assuming the subs-to-translation process is right (which, again: don’t assume that). Regardless, I can’t tell from Bala’s body language whether he thinks this is a good or a bad thing, but he is volunteering the information. Alem ends up talking about people who have felt empowered to pursue new projects after listening to Ninety One. At times like these, you understand why you’re working for all of this,” says Bala. So… I think they’re okay with the gay fans. Or at least doing a poor job of disavowing them. Ace points out that their lyrics in Why’m” and Men Emes” were designed to be empowering.

Yeah, says KB, but did you really have to dye your hair and all that? Here comes an interesting anecdote: apparently after Boss Yerbolat had assembled the group (possibly even before Ace had joined, when Alem, Bala, AZ, and ZaQ were still KTI Boys) he gave them a choice of models: One Direction and Big Bang. The guys voted unhesitatingly for Big Bang, and hence Aiyptama” was the debut song. Good choice, KTI Boys! And now I’m going to spend the rest of the day wondering what Umytpa,” the other possible debut song, would sound like if One Direction had sung it.

Also: at 1:31:20 we have Bala voguing badly.

Formation of the Kazakh language through music (1:32:52) / A request to the musicians who returned after the start of the war (1:39:02)

More ZaQ now, talking about how he listened to American and Russian rap first and was later thrilled to discover Kazakh rap. At ~01:33:55 he talks very enthusiastically about Kazakh rappers beefing with each other. We really are going to need the Kazakhstani equivalent of, say, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. KB teases them about not mumbling like Skriptonit. Soon after this there’s an unfortunate gap in the subs, but I think ZaQ is explaining how Ace and Bala helping him out with lyric writing, possibly (I’m speculating) contributing an emphasis on sound as much as meaning.

ZaQ then talks about the potential opportunities for Kazakhstani artists who were working in Russia but returned to Kazakhstan after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yeah, he says, there’s not as much money to be made, but you have a chance to break Kazakhstan on the world stage, and spread the Kazakh language! Language affects consciousness! Look at what the Koreans and Japanese have been able to do for their respective languages! This prompts Ace to talk about how his consciousness expanded once he learned Korean, after a year and a half training with SM. (That must’ve been a rough year and a half.)

Importance of language (1:40:29)

Starting at ~1:44:19 we get one of the great pleasures (or hazards, depending on your point of view) of following Ninety One, and that is ZaQ Getting Super Philosophical About Language. It seems wrongheaded to do this at the distance of a translation of a translation, but here goes: basically, to master a language is to absorb the way of thinking of the speaker. (At one point he claims not to have mastered Russian, and KBs like, dude you have mastered Russian far more than most Russians.) Spreading the Kazakh language is thus inextricable from strengthening Kazakh identity. There’s a potential anticolonialist element here, in that to learn Kazakh, from its relatively low place of sociopolitical power, is different from learning Russian, but I don’t think ZaQ is going so far as to make an anti-Russian statement.

Alem and Bala chime in along the way, leaving YA sheepishly saying something about never having expected to be so impressed by Ninety One. Ace apparently tells a joke involving the Korean language and the word Hyundai”; the subbers refuse to sub it. KB talks about going to Mongolia and feeling like he needed to make excuses for his poor Kazakh.

Are you going to fight? (1:54:50) / January events (1:56:15)

We’re now getting to the section that inspired me to start this quixiotic translating effort in the first place. Ace points out that the Ukrainians are also very attached to their language, to the point of sacrificing their lives for it. KB then notes that artists are fighting in Ukraine, and there’s some discussion about whether the guys would sign up for the military if Kazakhstan was invaded, and they’re all so grimly matter-of-fact about it that I’m tempted to conclude that okay, we’re next” was a going concern in Kazakhstan as of June, and is possibly still now. ZaQ says that there was a related internal conversation about going out to the front lines back in January, when the front lines” were seemingly around the corner. So, yes, we are going to talk about Ninety One’s experiences of Bloody January.

Or, rather, Ninety One is going to talk about their experiences of Bloody January, and the subbers are going to hang back and let a lot go untranslated. In particular, there’s a big gap at ~01:57:56, after Alem describes seeing a crowd of people on Abay Avenue (I think?) destroy a Kaspi (ATM? bank branch?). What they seem to be describing, if you don’t mind taking my interpretation with even more salt than usual, is that initially they were fired up to join whatever protests were going on, only to be discouraged when things got violent and inexplicable. I say this cautiously; I’m not convinced that I was absolutely going to join the anti-government, fed-up-with-everything protests before they got violent and inexplicable” is a mainstream sentiment in present-day Kazakhstan. Ace says he was very angry when the Internet was turned off country-wide. As well he should have been!

KB asks the group if they think anything’s changed since the January protests. Their responses are interestingly not uniform: ZaQ and Alem talk about people tasting freedom and finding a new spirit, whereas Ace says, Well, gas is 65 tenge now,” and I might be overinterpreting but I think that’s his way of saying no, not really.

Then there’s some discussion of the ruling government possibly leaning on Ninety One to fall in line? Specifically, the subs have KB saying (at ~2:02:14), I know that you have contacted many influencers and said that you need to support the president now.” I don’t know, Toqaev seems to be doing fine, or at least there don’t seem to be many alternatives to him, I don’t know why Ninety One would need to be shilling for him, unless it’s necessary to keep the McDonald’s and InDriver and Samsung deals. Maybe this has something to do with Bolat Nazarbayev’s rumored former iron grip on the entertainment industry? I’m at a loss.

Skriptonit album with Ninety One (2:04:06) / Kana’s Ninety One documentary (2:09:19)

From here on out it’s mostly KB talking. First he compares them to Batyrkhan Shukenov, in their expand-knowledge-of-Kazakhstan-through-pop-music efforts, which is a heckuva compliment, and then he wants them to collaborate with Skriptonit (which, no evidence of that yet, but ZaQ and Bala have since hung out with Jah Khalib, I’m still chuffed about that). And then it’s time for the outro. I have great respect and love for you,” KB says. Awww. Bala throws hearts in response. There’s some brief discussion of KBs documentary career, and, hey, did you know that one of those documentaries is about the Kazakh language itself? And has Ninety One in it? And HAS ENGLISH SUBS?!!!??! Y’all don’t even need me! You can just go ahead and watch the damn thing! I haven’t yet; I’ve been saving it as my treat for getting through this summary.

So what have we learned? To be frank, it’s not so much that this information is new (though I do appreciate the extra detail on the split with Juz) as that it reinforces narratives already in place: the nastiness of 2016, hair-dying still being so outré that podcasters committed to talking to the young, noisy, lively” keep needing to point it out; ZaQ’s commitment to promoting Kazakh identity in a modern setting, the group being sympathetic to and touched by the stories of Eaglez (including, maybe, the gay and/or gender-non-conforming ones), and language being a tool in support of Kazakhness. Also Alem being open-hearted, Bala flirting with the camera, ZaQ waxing philosophical, and Ace taking the most down-to-earth view of things. There are quite a few things I’d wished they’d tackled at greater length, especially around the possible emerging theme of Ninety One giving the Kazakhstani government a lot more than they’re getting in return.

We have also learned that doing an end-run around normal translation processes might work, even if the person doing the running is woefully ignorant of both the languages being translated. So again, feel free to glance through my compilation of the subs and machine translations to English, and let me know where I interpreted wrongly, and especially let me know if I’m wrong enough often enough that doing something like this again in future (with this interview with ZaQ last year, for example, which seems to be subbed) is a bad idea.