Diamanda Galas, Armenian genocide

Bluefat Archive
March 2008

“Get up off your knees, you weak bastard,
and fight!” — Katzanzakis

The Woman
Who Knows
Too Much

A conversation with Diamanda Galás, avenging queen of the damned

Diamanda Galás made her solo recording debut in 1982 with The Litanies of Satan, a bloodcurdling blast of screaming, sighing, sneering, spitting sonority based on texts by the poet Charles Baudelaire. Recorded in a freezing cold basement studio in London after she’d been awake for 24 hours, Litanies is a glossolalic galaxy further perverted by insane floods of reverb, spatial delay, complex signal processing and overdubbing. Twenty-eight years later, it remains quite terrifying in effect.

That initial recorded outpouring established Galás as a troubling and troublesome singer of the avant-garde and beyond, one who boasted a multi-multi-octave voice of unparalleled power and technical command, along with a contemporary-classical/new-thing piano style the equal to and great leap forward past the storied prowess of your baddest dudes of the modern jazzbo scene. But all that’s just the mechanics of it; her performances have combined these vocal acrobatics with electronics and triple- and quadruple-mike techniques that’d fling the voice around in horrific battles between the Devil, God and all us poor victims –– sometimes with her back to the crowd. Her topics? AIDS, rape, torture, genocide.

Galás was born in San Diego in 1955, daughter of an Anatolian-Greek father and an Armenian-Syrian mother. She grew up in a very strict and isolated kind of environment –– no TV, no radio, no nothing like that. She wasn’t allowed to wear a two-piece bathing suit, couldn’t go on any dates, not until she left the house at the age of 19. So she and her brother Philip-Dimitri, a future renowned playwright, got real good at creating their own very individual worlds holed up at home, where they both dug the dark stuff from early on: Marquis de Sade, Friedrich Nietzsche, Antonin Artaud, and Edgar Allan Poe, especially.