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The Turkish folk singer who inspires US rappers

The song Ince Ince by Selda Bagcan was sampled by hip hop icon Dr. Dre in latest album

The Turkish folk singer who inspires US rappers

By Handan Kazanci


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 Aug. 7.

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 says, giggling.

Bagcan has acquired fame in Turkey with her political lyrics. A prominent figure of the Sixties 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 June 13, currently ranks second on Turkish entertainment retailer D&R’s music chart.

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 says.

Andre Romelle Young, aka Dr. Dre, is a former member of rap group N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), which is widely recognized for having revolutionized 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 Electronics, an audio product company of which he is the co-founder, to Apple for $3 billion 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 says. “And also my voice is impressive.”

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

During the Sixties, 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 U.S. next year. Meanwhile, the movie Straight Outta Compton about Dre's pioneering outfit N.W.A. took the U.S. box office by storm last weekend.

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