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Selda - Selda

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Artist: Selda

Album: Selda

Label: Finders Keepers

Review date: Dec. 3, 2006

Remember when you were a younger person with a smaller vocabulary? Remember how you filled in the lyrics to songs you didn’t fully comprehend? I rediscovered that odd pleasure while listening to this, a reissue of Selda Bagcam’s Turkish psychedelic protest record from 1976. I don’t understand a word of Turkish, so I extrapolated my own meanings involving people I saw on the bus, or things I wanted to remember. Perhaps this isn’t the most appropriate way to appreciate Selda, but this music makes me so damned giddy and receptive and alive, it just happens.

Much as American psych sprang from acid-eaten variations on the blues, Selda and her contemporaries (such as they were) built on their own common musical and cultural input. The deep, hypnotic strains of Anadolu folk lent themselves generously to the lush, distorted, disorienting pop aesthetic of the day. The saz, in particular, proved itself as cozy in the heavy psychedelic haze as the Mellotron.

Not that Selda tries to sound weird or cosmic; it just happens. It may bleed a thick syrup of oddness, but at its heart, this stuff is grounded in the feel and ideology of pop. In their native tongue, the lyrics are as sincere and agonized as anything from the ‘60s Greenwich canon. Selda’s voice is powerful, passionate, and carefully focused. The jubilant accompaniment buoys the populist sentiments. Like any good protest music, it carries its own dramatic weight and invites its politics along for the ride.

But, musically, this stuff is so absurdly advanced, it lands somewhere far from the utilitarian here-and-now of most political pop. In tune with the far-fetched bricolage of prog-rock, it shifts from ardent balladry (“Nasirli Eller”) to blistering fuzz (“Ince Ince”) to snaky spy jazz (“Yaylalar”) within a few tracks without compromising its urgent mood. The newly amended bonus tracks even venture into what sounds like reggae. Clearly, the erstwhile Turkish underground never considered stunning virtuosity, full-tilt artistic ambition or unbounded appropriation tools of establishmentarian oppression. It got better agit-prop for its aesthetic broad-mindedness. Even now, it’s rare to behold such an extensive range of concepts mixed with such catholic glee. Few other psych records, regardless of national origin, come close to having this much fun with this much conviction or this much emotion.

As it circulated, this album became retroactive samizdat by virtue of its popularity, and got Selda thrown in jail. Although I don’t know exactly what she’s talking about, the authority of her charming, haunting spell dismantles the language barrier with no problem. If I were the thought police, I’d be spooked, too.

By Emerson Dameron

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