Selda Bağcan, often billed simply as Selda, is a Turkish folk guitarist, singer, songwriter, and producer whose 40-plus year career is a rallying cry for social change and an inspiration among contemporary artists, with a particularly strong connection to hip hop music.
Bağcan was born in Muğla, a city in the southwestern part of Turkey, in 1948. Her love of music was encouraged at home. She learned to play mandolin at age five, and as a teenager she developed an interest in playing guitar and singing along with popular English, Spanish, and French songs on the radio.
Bağcan established the groundwork of her career while she was in college. She developed an affinity for traditional Turkish folk songs and started to perform live at Beethoven, her brothers’ popular music club in the capital city of Ankara, where she met many of her folk and rock inspirations. Throughout the 1970s, Bağcan continued to blend her mastery of the guitar and the traditional Turkish stringed instrument, the baglama, with lyrics heavily inspired by regional folk traditions. Despite her dedication to keeping folk traditions alive, many of these songs include traces of rock and even nascent experimental music influences.
Bağcan’s lyrics often champion the working poor, which made her popular among Cold War-era leftists in her home country, and at times, a perceived threat to the government. Following the 1980 coup Turkish d’état, she was imprisoned multiple times and had her passport confiscated, which limited much of her touring opportunities for the better part of the decade..
Political turbulence and legal issues did not deter Bağcan from writing and performing politically-charged music in the ‘90s. One of her best-known songs from the decade, 1993’s “Uğurlar Olsun,” was a tribute to investigative journalist Uğur Mumcu, who had recently been assassinated.
Today, Bağcan remains active in Istanbul and on the European festival circuit. In the English-speaking world, her music has been sampled numerous times by hip-hop artists. For example, portions of “İnce ince,” a song about economic inequality, can be heard in Mos Def’s “Supermagic” and Dr. Dre’s “Issues.” Within this different context, one of Bağcan’s best-known political anthems proves to have a message that extends well beyond national borders.
Although the traditions she honored and the oppression she spurred was uniquely Turkish, by providing a voice to the voiceless in turbulent times with her guitar and songs of protest, Bağcan’s simple yet steadfast pleas for equality will remain globally relevant in 2017 and beyond.