Skip to main content

The Turkish folk singer who inspired Dr Dre and Mos Def

Bagcan won fame in the '60s for her political lyrics, which were often sung in Kurdish and accompanied by wild guitar riffs
Selda Bagcan's 1976 album Turkuola has inspired a host of US rappers (You Tube screen)

ISTANBUL – An important voice of Turkish protest music, Selda Bagcan, has seen her music influence artists lightyears away from her musical universe.

Indeed, her song Ince Ince was recently used as a sample in hip hop producer Dr Dre’s long-awaited album Compton released on 7 August. 

The 66-year-old singer did not feel the need to hide her ignorance about the rap singer when asked what she thought of Dr Dre’s latest album, which was streamed 25 million times during its first week out on Apple Music and was downloaded nearly half a million times on iTunes.

“He is not a singer that I know very well,” says Bagcan, sitting in her living room in which one is surrounded by musical instruments and various awards she has received.

“I sing folk songs, how would I know about him? I know Madonna and Michael Jackson,” she said, giggling.

But Bagcan, who lives in Istanbul’s Bosphorus neighborhood Tarabya with more than 20 cats in a duplex house, says Dr Dre’s team contacted her for copyright purposes: “[They] have not paid copyright yet but it is likely they will pay, we are waiting,” she said.

Bagcan has acquired fame in Turkey with her political lyrics. A prominent figure of the '60s in Turkey, she made several trips to jail for a total of nearly five months for either singing in Kurdish or turning banned poems by Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet into song lyrics. 

She celebrated the 44th anniversary of her music carrier this year by also releasing an album 40 Songs of 40 Years. The album, released by her own record company Major Music on 13 June, currently ranks second on Turkish entertainment retailer D&R’s music chart.

Andre Romelle Young, aka Dr Dre, is a former member of rap group NWA (Niggaz With Attitude), which is widely recognised for having revolutionised rap music with such hits as Express Yourself and F*** tha Police. He is considered as the richest rap artist in the world having sold Beats, the headphones company of which he is the co-founder, to Apple for $3bn last year.

However, the iconic hip hop producer who launched the careers of such rap stars as Eminem, Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, is not the first rapper to use a sample from Bagcan.

So far, says Bagcan, the best use of her song Ince Ince was made by Mos Def, an American hip hop singer who won a Grammy award with his 2010 album The Ecstatic, which includes Supermagic featuring Bagcan’s song.

The song Ince Ince comes from Bagcan’s 1976 album Turkuola and is based on a folk song by Asik Mahzuni Serif (1940-2002), a folk musician, composer and a poet. His title Asik or Ashik is a title loosely meaning balladeer.

Dr Dre uses the same riff as Mos Def in his song Issues.

Today, Bagcan believes her fame outside of Turkey is bigger than in her home country, as she has been able to witness while performing at rock festivals around the world in the last couple of years.

Recently, she took the stage at a festival in Holland with Tel Aviv-based rock band Boom Pam.

“The audiences were singing Turkish songs with us,” she recalls. “It is unbelievable they take an interest in [our songs] more than audiences here [in Turkey].”  

According to Bagcan, the interest in her songs is a result of her music’s strong ties to Anatolia.

“This music is from Anatolian lands, something they [foreign audience] are not used to,” she said. “And also my voice is impressive.”

“There is pain, rebellion, sadness, every voice of this land,” she added. 

During the '60s, Turkey was not immune to the cultural phenomena hitting youths in Western countries. Bagcan is no exception.

As she blends western music with Turkish folk songs, the result is “marvelously modern,” she adds.

Bagcan is preparing for another concert in the US next year. Meanwhile, the movie Straight Outta Compton about Dre's pioneering outfit NWA took the US box office by storm last weekend.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.