Diamanda Galás

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Biography

One of the most startling artists of our time, Galás creates haunting gospels of despair, desolation and redemption that leave the audience shaken and transformed. For some, the things of which she sings are too much to bear; for Galás, it would be unbearable to remain silent about them.

Galás treats her piercingly beautiful multi-octave voice as an instrument whose sound defies description, penetrating like wind to the bone, resurrecting the dead in the living. She stands alone by virtue of her extraordinary technical accomplishment and her passionate commitment to the principle that the personal is the political. The themes she addresses are universal-a ferocious grieving of real and immediate loss-taking material from a wide variety of cultures and eras. The sorrow of which she sings addresses in chilling recollection, man's inhumanity to man, songs of life and death, redemption and damnation, of human pain and suffering which is experienced directly by the audience.

Raised in San Diego, Calif., Galás was born to Greek Orthodox parents, who always encouraged her gift for piano. Galás studied a wide range of musical forms, as well as visual-art performance, and then moved to to Europe where she made her performance debut at the Festival d'Avignon in France in 1979, performing the lead in the opera, Un Jour Comme un Autre, by composer Vinko Globokar, based upon the Amnesty International documentation of the arrest and torture of a Turkish woman for alleged treason.

Releasing her first recorded work in 1982, Galás' numerous musical and theatrical works include the pivotal Plague Mass (1990), the haunting mass for People with Aids; Vena Cava (1992), the solo voice and electronic work concerning AIDS dementia and clinical depression; Schrei 27 (1996), which deals with torture in isolation; and the concerts/recordings of Malediction and Prayer, (1998), Judgement Day, Concert for the Damned, and The Masque of the Red Death (1984 - 1988). Galás is currently working on the composition and commissioning of the opera Nekropolis.

"She plays the piano like driving rain slapping on concrete, and she sings like a demon going to war, a valkyrie scatting, a lizard queen seeking revenge for the dead...Galas is profound, rigorous, vocally unlimited, terrifying and utterly compelling. To hear her is to have your soul scoured clean." -THE AGE AUSTRALIA 2001

Defixiones, Will and Testament: Orders from the Dead

Galás is currently presenting her latest work Defixiones, Will and Testament for solo voice, piano, and tape. The performance is an angry meditation on genocide and the politically cooperative denial of it, in particular the Turkish and American denial of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Anatolian Greek genocides from 1914 to 1923.

The program features selections of work that address man's inhumanity to man, and is concerned with material written by those living in exile: "The Dance," a poem by Armenian poet Siamanto; "The Desert," by Syrian poet Adonis; "Epistle to the Transients," by Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo; "Todesfuge," by Rumanian-Jewish poet Paul Celan; Greek and Armenian rembetika (a form of music brought by Asia Minor refugees from Smyrna down into Greece) and amanedhes (an Asia Minor style of improvisation), including "If I Die on the Boat," made famous by Sotiria Bellou and "Anoixe," by Papaiannou; "Hastayim Yasiyorum," by Udi Hrant; "Artémis," by Gérard Nerval; work by Assyrian poet-martyr Dr. Freidoun Bet-Oraham and the music of the deep South.

"Defixiones" refers to the warnings engraved in lead that were placed by relatives of the deceased on the graves of the dead in Greece and Asia Minor. These warnings cautioned against moving or desecrating the corpses under the threat of extreme harm. "Will and Testament" refers to the last wishes of the dead who have been taken to their graves under unnatural circumstances. Concerned with the poet/author living in exile, either from his homeland or within his homeland, Defixiones, Will and Testament speaks for individuals who have had to live as outlaws, and for those who have had to create houses out of rock.

Defixions has been performed and developed since 1999, with the World Premiere, September 11, 1999, at the Castle Of Ghent, followed by workshop performances at The Kitchen in NYC, and official productions at The Barbican in London, The Athens Opera House, The Sydney Opera House, The Festival of Perth, The Cloisters of Sor Juana in Mexico City on The Day of the Saints, The Aula Magna in Lisbon, The Fano Festival of New Music, The Glasgow Center for the Arts, The Gogol Theatre in Moscow, The Dresden Festival of New Music, and UCLA Live at Royce hall in Los Angeles.

Galas has just been given a Civitella Ranieri Residency in Composition for 2003-2004.

THE CURRENT RELEASES

Recordings of Defixiones, Will and Testament and La Serpenta Canta were released by Mute in November of 2003.

Cover Image La Serpenta Canta, a double-album (83 minutes), contains the songs "Ain't No Grave Can Hold Me Down" (Boise Sturdevant); "Burning Hell" (John Lee Hooker); "Lonely Woman" (Ornette Coleman); "Baby’s Insane" (Galás); "I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry" (Hank Williams); "Dark End of the Street" (Dan Penn); "Blue Spirit Blues" (Spencer Williams); "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (traditional); "My World Is Empty Without You" (Holland/Dozier/Holland); "Dead Cat on the Line" (Tampa Red Mississippi Fred Mac Dowell); "Dancing in the Dark" (Schwartz/Dietz); "Frenzy" (Screamin' Jay Hawkins); "I Put A Spell on You" (Screamin' Jay Hawkins); and "Burning Hell (Reprise)."

Cover Image Defixiones, Will and Testament, also a double-album (99 minutes), begins with the large work "The Dance," which features "Ter Vogormia" (from the Armenian Liturgy); "The Dance" (Siamanto); "The Desert" (Adonis, aka Ali Ahmad Said); "Sevda Zinciri" (Anonymous); and "A Desperate Vitality" (Pasolini). The album continues with THE EAGLE OF TKUMA (Bet-Oraham), ORDERS FROM THE DEAD (Galás), and a selection of "SONGS OF EXILE" featuring San Pethano (Anonymous), Hastayim Yasiyorum (Hrant), Je Rame (Michaux), Epistola A Los Transeuntes (Vallejo), Birds of Death (Galás), Anoixe (Papaioanou), Todesfugue (Celan), Artémis (Nerval), and See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (Traditional).

Following a performance of La Serpenta Canta, Alex Vartay wrote "The night's unequivolcal highlight was Galas' diabolically bleak version of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonely, I Could Cry". With its stark visual poetry and coyote-howl tune, this is one of the world's great songs, especially when delivered at a death-march crawl and sung with spectral intensity. Judicious touches of digital delay turned Galas' voice into one long wail, in a performance that was so spooky I swear the temperature in the room dropped several degrees." (November 10/02, Georgia Strait, Vancouver)

Special thanks to Krista Fleischer
Photos by Austin Young

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