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New Delhi/Goa Trio Begum Bring Spontaneity and Sparkle on New Album ‘Are You Ok?’

Members Kartik Pillai, Karan Singh and Dhruv Bhola are also part of alternative/indie act Peter Cat Recording Co.

Anurag Tagat Mar 14, 2022

New Delhi/Goa trio Begum. Photo: Courtesy of Pagal Haina

Ruminating on togetherness and isolation and all the perspectives in between, New Delhi-bred, Goa-based indie trio Begum’s third album Are You Ok? is about empathy and concern but expressed in their distinct way. Multi-instrumentalists Kartik Pillai and Dhruv Bhola, along with drummer Karan Singh, dive into waves of lo-fi, psychedelic rock that they constructed over the span of about five years, releasing a 10-track album on March 11th.

As much as Begum can claim that the music was born out of spontaneous ideas which came to them during jams and noodling about, there was some amount of finessing involved and it wasn’t all that easy. Pillai says about their stream of consciousness style of creating music, “It’s very difficult to describe. Everyone’s had that experience, though, right? You’re playing cricket, a ball comes your way and your hand just reacts, right?” The guitarist, producer, vocalist and trumpeter describes it as a “non-thinking moment” that guides him with all his work – be it Begum, Peter Cat Recording Co. (which all three are also part of), Jamblu and music videos. “Usually when it’s happening, after 10 minutes of nothing, you get five or seven minutes of something [but] you can’t think of it happening. You have to be in it. You’ll eventually lose it and that’s okay. Most of the time, it’s just there. There’s no magic really,” he adds with a laugh.

One could argue on that point, given the kind of places that Begum journey to on Are You Ok? – the opening title track is suitably laidback and steeped in chill electronics, while “You Mean Well” bears the familiar psychedelic, shimmering flourishes we’ve heard from Peter Cat songs. Buoyant indie rock gets its turn on the bittersweet “Ten Years Later,” which was created in 2015. “I don’t remember writing it, I must have been depressed,” Pillai says. Tender, mellow-meets-melancholy vibes permeate on “Only If You Care” and “Meena Lisa.” There’s a push and pull on “Better Person” and “Better Person Too,” with the former getting a music video directed by filmmaker Sachin S. Pillai.

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The rest of the music videos – “Meena Lisa,” “ Maybe Baby” and “Only If You Care” – all had Kartik Pillai at the helm in one way or another. “Meena Lisa” featuring artist Prabhleen Kaur was co-directed by Manish Kestwal and “Maybe Baby” was conceptualized by Pillai and animated by Haninder. The song presents itself with the in-the-room spontaneity and urgency of someone just picking up a guitar and singing the first words which came to mind and is aptly reflected in the shapeshifting music video.

For “Only If You Care,” Pillai called on friends from all around the world and asked them to film anything and everything they wished to on July 7th, 2021. Pillai said in a statement when the video dropped in December last year, “When you were a kid, did you ever play a game where you’d try to imagine yourself in different points across the planet, experiencing the weather, time of day, street noise, if any? Places like Andorra, Buenos Aires, or Tokyo. Well, that’s what I was doing, trying to fully create a reality of these places as accurately as I could.”

There might be two more music videos from the album coming up as well. “It’s always an experiment. I personally don’t like to make music videos where it’s just the band playing or some story. I always wanted to fuck with the basics of multimedia in general. I love cutting up video and putting together weird story arcs. I love fucking with the viewer a little bit, ‘What did I just see? What does that mean?’ Because every moment has meaning,” Pillai says.

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Another Begum EP is already slated for release, while Pillai, Bhola and Singh are also chipping away at Peter Cat Recording Co. material with Suryakant Sawhney and Rohit Gupta. “We’re working on a few EPs and we’re figuring out how to release these songs in general – multiple EPs or a full album format. Should be out pretty soon, it’s sounding pretty dope,” Pillai says. There are also four releases with his experimental project Jamblu. “It’s also the same kind of vibe of found footage of me,” he adds. 

Listen to ‘Are You Ok?’ below. Stream on more platforms here.

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