Sing Selda Sing

Sunday night may be the first time many of us will be acquainted with the Turkish powerhouse known affectionately as Selda, but for Suzan Yücel – a child of Turkish immigrants in the Netherlands who grew up side by side with Selda’s music – this name strikes a far more familiar chord.

“Ah yalan dünyada yalan dünyada. Yalandan yüzüme gülen dünyada.”

“The world is a lie; a lie that is laughing in my face,” goes the chorus of a song every Turk knows by heart. My parents used to sing it in the shower every morning along with other Turkish songs as they got dressed for work. Not much of a coincidence then that this song will be performed by Turkish protest singer and folk legend Selda Baǧcan at Strange Sounds From Beyond 2017, but it’s certainly a prospect that had me jumping on my bed from sheer excitement.

Born in the Turkish province Muğla in 1948 to parents of Macedonian origin, music played a significant role in Selda Baǧcan’s childhood, where she played the guitar and mandolin throughout her middle and high school years. She launched her successful career as a musician during her final year of university in capital city Ankara.

Selda’s music is often described as a blend of Turkish folk and psychedelic funk rock. In a country where most songs are dedicated to love, Selda has instead chosen to weave political messages into her music.

Even though Selda is well-loved by the people of Turkey, the respected singer hasn’t always had an easy time during her professional career. Turkey during the rural period of the 80s was a deeply divided country where left- and right-wing activists were at war over their views. A military coup – one described by many Turks nowadays as a black page in a young Turkish democracy – ended the civil conflict with an iron fist. Many left-wing advocates were locked up and freedom was under siege. Selda, like many others, fell victim in the tumultuous political climate. As a result of left-wing sympathies and political statements harboured in her music, Selda’s passport was confiscated by the authorities, leading to cancellations of her performances abroad. In Turkey, simply listening to Selda’s music could get one into trouble. When her passport was finally returned to her in 1987, Selda wasted no time before securing concerts in The Netherlands and in the UK.

Repeated imprisonments by her oppressors failed to dull the love for Selda nationwide. Quite the contrary. Left wing or right wing, Selda proves that music brings people together and transcends social and political differences. Today, her popularity with fans abroad is higher than ever: “The audiences were singing Turkish songs with us. It is unbelievable they take an interest in [our songs] more than audiences here in Turkey,” stated Selda in an interview with press agency Anadolu about an overseas performance.

Selda’s songs has even reached international musicians such as hip hop artists Dr. Dre and Mos Def; the latter won a Grammy for his 2010 album The Ecstatic. Mos Def sampled Selda’s “Ince Ince” on  “Supermagic”, one of the tracks featured on the album. “Ince Ince” is based on a folk song by musician, composer and a poet Asik Mahzuni Serif, and is from Selda’s 1976 album Türküola.

This otherwise positive collaboration was tainted somewhat by disputes over intellectual property rights and other broken promises, as let on by Selda in an interview with Bant Mag.

The Turkish folk singer can also count singer Florence and the Machine, producer and DJ The Gaslamp Killer and even Hollywood star Elijah Wood amongst her fans. During a visit to one of her concerts in Turkey, Wood expressed his love for Selda and thanked her for introducing him to Turkish folk music.

Elijah Wood and Selda Baǧcan

Since 2004 Selda has been collaborating with the Israeli band Boom Pam. They perform at various music festivals around the world, with Selda continuing her tradition of singing about life’s inequalities and injustices. One such song is “Yaz Gazeteci Yaz”, which means “Write Journalist, Write”. In this song, she calls on journalists not to turn a blind eye to the injustice in her country or allow themselves to be fooled by people in power. With Turkey currently holding the world record for keeping the highest number of journalists behind bars, the song is a thinly veiled political statement and an accurate depiction of the times.

With any luck, you’ll carry what I’ve shared with you in the back of your head when you head down to the festival this coming Sunday. As Selda belts out her hour-long medley with her signature uplifting voice, you might not understand a word of the lyrics. You would, however, be listening with a set of new ears and new wisdom, and hopefully come away with not just an unforgettable festival experience, but the knowledge that you are now part of a bigger story; a story that lives on in Selda’s songs.