The 1970s in Turkey were a time of opening across all cultural spheres but especially musically. After the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, “Alaturca” music was banned from radio stations in favor of Western classical tonal music. Generations of Turkish musicians were trained to play piano and violin but not traditional folk instruments. The traditional Ottoman courtly music style was almost lost completely, and while regional folk styles continued to be popular in bars and at weddings, generations of urban dwellers grew up without Turkish music.
By the 1960s, many Turks were listening to Bulgarian, Syrian, and Egyptian radio to fill this niche, while the big cities began to undergo a pop culture revolution. Tango became very popular and was allowed on radio. Meanwhile, young people from Western-oriented families began listening to psychedelic rock, which sounded a lot like the Anatolian music that fresh waves of migrants from the countryside were bringing with them.
This mix produced a first wave of “Anatolian rock” by groups like Moğollar, Erkin Koray, and many more. This music found a home on the political Left in Turkey, and found its way back into Anatolian villages as restrictions on radio were relaxed and because the artists could claim that it was indeed Western-influenced music.
Selda Bağcan enters the scene in the mid-70s and is renowned as a political activist to the present day. The daughter of refugees from the Balkans and Crimea, she grew up in multiple areas of rural Anatolia and picked up a strongly class-oriented lyrical repertoire.
Her 1976 hit “Yaz Gazeteci Yaz” (Write Journalist Write) is perhaps her most famous song, influencing artists including St. Vincent and Tune-Yards as well as generations of Turkish musicians. The song has been covered by almost every rock act in Turkey, with the lyrics edited to reflect the plight of different cities and towns. Its lyrics address the growing disparity in wealth between urban and rural areas, and the cultural distance this opened up. The song gains a lot of power from the lines of verse that can’t be contained by meter or rhyme; the urgency of the message allows the lines to spin out and flood the psychic space of the listener.
Bağcan was arrested multiple times after the coup of 1980 and had her passport confiscated. She now performs at music festivals around the world as a sort of Marxist nan.