Selda Bağcan, who in recent years has achieved international acclaim and is among Turkey’s most beloved and renowned singers, will be performing in concert alongside the Istanbul Symphony Orchestra on Dec. 11 at the city’s expansive Bostancı Gösteri Merkezi venue.
Bağcan, known for her otherworldly, powerful and resonant voice, is a legend in the world of Turkish music. Beginning her career in the early 1970s when she was in her early 20s, she was quickly catapulted to the role of the one of the country’s most important musicians.
This did not stop her from infusing her music with politically-charged, leftist sentiments, such as the classic “Yaz Gazeteci Yaz” (Write, Journalist, Write!) from her debut album, where she implores journalists not to write about the elite and wealthy city dwellers but about the plight of the poor and working class people living in the country’s rural areas. On “Meydan Sizindir” (The Square Is Yours) Selda sings, “Today is yours but tomorrow is ours, the world is ours, the universe is ours. Friendship is ours, brotherhood is ours.”
The track “Kızıldere” from the same album is a reference a 1972 standoff between Turkish leftist revolutionaries and security forces in the village of Kızıldere in the Central Anatolian province of Tokat. The men, including iconic revolutionary Mahir Çayan, took three hostages and held them captive in the village in the hopes of preventing the execution of their comrades, which included Deniz Gezmiş, perhaps the most significant and recognizable Turkish leftist revolutionary. Çayan and nine others were killed in the standoff.
Following the country’s traumatic 1980 military coup, Bağcan was among the artists and intellectuals targeted by the government, and was arrested and had her passport confiscated. She inevitably retrieved it and carried on with her career, performing in Turkey and abroad.
In the 2000s, Selda enjoyed a newfound worldwide level of appreciation after the record label Finders Keepers re-released her debut album on vinyl, with its iconic photo of Selda in the recording studio, wearing blue jeans and a striped sweater and strumming an acoustic guitar. The label, known for releasing albums that span genres and geographical locations, re-pressed the record in 2006. Thanks to the heady combination of Selda’s magical voice, and the unique blend of Turkish folk and psychedelic sounds, it captivated listeners throughout Europe and elsewhere in the world.
Several years later, Selda’s popularity in Turkey also saw a resurgence, with popular DJs creating mashups and remixes of her songs. She began to perform more regularly to large crowds in Istanbul and other cities in Turkey, at one point performing on stage with Aleyna Tilki, currently one of the country’s most popular pop singers. Tilki is herself a huge fan of Bağcan: she rose to fame on a television contest program singing a folk standard that Selda was known for.
At 71, Selda still regularly appears in concert. Last month, she was photographed riding the main line of the Istanbul metro, which created a small storm in the press. “Why shouldn’t I ride it? I’m a person of the people, I’m a woman of the people,” Bağcan said in response.