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Turkish rebel musician fights back against copy right violation

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/2/2010 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU

Selda Bağcan, the powerful voice of Turkish protest music and a representative of the ’68 generation, speaks about her struggles during life. She has found herself struggling again, this time against a US musician who used her music without permission at the Grammy Awards

Composer Selda Bağcan, the legendary voice of Turkish protest music and representative of the ’68 generation, has spent her life fighting the wrongs of the world and she was wronged once again at the latest Grammy Awards when hip hop artist Mos Def used her music without permission.

Bağcan is known for speaking out in the 60s and 70s, a time of political fluctuation in Turkey with her voice and music. She became famous all around the world for putting to music the works of Turkey’s internationally known poet Nazım Hikmet. Her name was included on a list of “legendary females of world music,” released by Times magazine in 2008, with Edith Piaf, Maria Callas, Joan Baez and Mercedes Sosa.

Her album sales reached millions in the 1970s, but she fell under suspicion after composing music for poems by Nazım Hikmet and Kurdish poets. 1980 was a dark and tense year in Turkey as the third coup of the history of Republic was taking place. Bağcan was taken into custody for the first time because of her music and was tried nine times and imprisoned three times over the next 10 years, receiving sentences totaling 500 years in prison.

In 1986 she was invited to the Woman Foundation World Dance and Music Festival, organized by Peter Gabriel, but she did not have a passport and was banned from going abroad. However, one of her songs was included in the album recorded after the festival.

[HH] Copyright issue with US hip hop artist

Bağcan has had years full of struggle but never cut her ties with music. Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review about her life full of struggles, Bağcan said, “My life was never easy, but I have lived a full life.”

After her albums were withdrawn from markets and the owners of the company producing her music were tried, she founded her own company. She paid for copyrights of her own albums and put them back on the market.

Bağcan not only struggled in Turkey. She had to resist difficulties abroad as well. The Britain-based Finders Keepers company release her CDs and long plays without obtaining permission, she said.

Then, Bağcan faced a new problem at this year’s Grammy Award ceremony. U.S. hip hop artist Mos Def, who was among the nominees for Best Rap Album and Best Performance, used her song “İnce İnce Kar Yağar” in one part of his song, but without permission. The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism interfered in the issue and sent a letter to Mos Def. Bağcan also addressed him while speaking to the Daily News, saying, “Your style is very effective, but I expect you to respect the labor of others.”

[HH] ‘Turkey did not own its values’

“I scream against the unfairness in the world,” said Bağcan. “My life was spent in court. My trials were meant to intimidate others. My close friend and the legendary name of Anatolian rock music, Cem Karaca, spent his life in exile just like Nazım Hikmet. Turkey did not own its values, leaving them to loneliness. Karaca suffered pains like me. He was playing Nazım’s songs, too, drawing attention to social problems. He was a leftist. That he was abroad saved him. He lived a life of exile in Germany for many years.”

[HH] Kurdish initiative

Bağcan said she continues to produce and sing her songs against all odds. “We were a productive generation but now the works produced in the Turkish music market are consumed rapidly. The main reason for this is the 1980 coup. No one wants to get their nose dirty.”

The Kurdish issue is an important agenda item and has preoccupied Turkish public opinion for the past year. TRT Şeş began broadcasting in the Kurdish language last year. It is no longer impossible to sing Kurdish songs on TVs and radios, and Bağcan said she was a leader of the Kurdish initiative in terms of culture in the 1970s.  “I composed music for and performed poems by Kurdish poet Şemsi Belli. I did not have a certain goal but wanted to feel these works in my heart. But in those years, polarization was on the rise in Turkey.”

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