By Nina Terrero
April 18, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Karwai Tang/WireImage

In his first public appearance since announcing his departure from One Direction in March, Zayn Malik thanked his former band mates in a touching tribute as he accepted an award at the Asian Awards in London Friday night.

“I’d also like to take this moment to thank four of the best guys I ever met while being in the band and doing all the amazing things that I did,” Malik said. “Some of the things that we did will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I thank you for that. Here’s to the future!”

The former boy band member—who rocked a nose ring and newly shaved head—was presented with the Outstanding Achievement in Music award in the fifth annual ceremony. During his acceptance speech, he also thanked his parents for “making me Asian.”

Malik, 22, made viral headlines last month when he announced on Facebook that he was splitting from the popular band, citing stress. The remaining members of One Direction—Harry Styles, Niall Horann, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlison—later told the British newspaper The Sun that they were “gutted” over his departure but that there were no plans to disband. In the same article, Malik said, “It is crazy and wild and a bit mad but, at the same time, I’ve never felt more in control in my life … And I feel like I’m doing what’s right—right by myself and right by the boys, so I feel good.”

Malik has already begun to make music, as evidenced by a solo track that was leaked in late March. Naughty Boy—a producer whose previous collaborations include Leona Lewis, Rihanna and Ed Sheeran—tweeted a link to the single, which was later removed from Soundcloud.