If you’re a fan of Turkish 1970s psychedelic music, then 2006 was a good year. First we had Shadoks with their two-disc Edip Akbayram retrospective in June, and now Finders Keepers is getting into the act with Mustafa Özkent’s Genclik Ile Elele, and this, a re-release of some terrific Selda Bağcan.
Finders Keepers is the label that brought us Welsh Rare Beat, a collection of ‘70s psyche-pop from Wales that showed a flowing, folkish spirit. It’s interesting to compare Rare Beat to a Turkish release like Selda and hear how the musicians in each country have used their respective folk music to color their pop. The Welsh drew on their mythic past and came up with Tir Na Nog folk operas and stories from the Mabinogi; songs that lilt. The Turkish music has more of a saz-buzz, sometimes dirty and squinched-up and squelchy, and it likes to chase its tail in curly frenzies while the Welsh sail across the skies.
Bağcan and Rare Beat‘s Nest Howells can both produce remarkable noises, but the way they go about it is very different. Howells lets her voice drift up and down the scale and leaves the listener waiting for it to fall, but Bagcan prefers to punch her notes into the air, or call out urgently. In Selda, she’s a woman on a mission. The notes point out that her songs are the work of an activist who was trying to draw attention to oppression. “Sanma zalim olandan / Birgün hesap sorulmaz,” she sings in one song, or “One day the tyrant will be scrutinized for all that is unjust”, but even without that explanation it would be clear from her tone of voice that she’s trying to goad the listener into action.
This goading style sets her apart from Akbayram, who was content to wrap the audience up in his ecstatic sadness and leave it nodding and murmuring, “How dramatic, how awful.” His music asks us to feel sorrow, hers asks us to move and think. His version of “Mehmet Emmi” comes on thick with the paisley and the dramatic sweep of opening strings and a balmy ocean of instruments, but hers emerges in quick taps, bam, bam, bam, no-nonsense. She sings “Ince Ince” briskly, as if it hurts; Akbayram sings “Ince Ince Bir Kar Yağar”, which is recognizably the same song, and sounds lush, languishing, filled with regrets.
She has the steel inflections of someone who believes in the words she’s saying. The notes compare her “emotive vocal capacity” to that of Joan Baez and sometimes the comparison seems apt, but then there’s this tricky wail she uses that makes her sound more desperate, more foreign—in “Gitme” she starts high, flinging her voice around in circles, and then brings it down slowly like an airplane being guided into a complicated landing.
The CD contains the 12 songs from the 1975 album that marked her movement from a career in folk music into a more experimental, electric sound. At the end there are five songs from the next album after that. Both LPs were originally released by the Turkish label Türküola, and both of them had the same title: Selda. The five songs from the second LP are labeled “bonus songs” but it’s difficult to see why they should be regarded as a bonus because the album would be too short, for a full-length CD, without them.
Those five tracks are enough to suggest that the second Selda was calmer and denser than the first, the edge of the singer’s vocal activism blunted by the presence of substantial backing bands. In “Anayasso” she’s backed by Mogollar, a popular group in its own right, and when it stamps in with its own chorus of heavy-voiced male singers the mismatch is enough to make me wince. The men sound as if they’ve come from a completely different place. But as long as they keep their mouths shut the collaboration works.
From what I can hear, I’m guessing that the first LP was recorded quickly and simply while the second was comparatively laborious and carefully planned, with more complicated roles for each musician. The music doesn’t suffer, but Bagcan herself seems less free on the last five songs of the CD that she does on the 12 before them. The personality that comes out in her voice is the key to this album: It gives Selda a forceful zing that was missing from the last foreign-language psyche album I listened to, Ariesta Birawa’s Vol. 1, Indonesia. If I feel that I should rank Selda slightly below Edip Akbaryam then it’s only because that release included two discs of good music and Selda has only one. Both musicians are, in their own ways, equally fine, and deserve to be sought out.
Selda Bağcan—Ah Yalan Dunya
// Notes from the Road
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