Enchanting music keeps singer-pianist Galas ‘alive’

Enchanting music keeps singer-pianist Galas ‘alive’
by Nancy Lanthier, Vancouver Sun

The Vancouver Sun (British Columbia)
October 14, 2004 Thursday
Final Edition

Sometimes intelligent, sensitive artists are impelled to make art
that has nothing to do with beauty or emotional comfort. Rather,
these artists hurl a horrific hell at us, works that are bleak,
black, raging.

When artists handle topical monstrosities articulately, though, it
can be like a scouring pad to the soul; it feels like an extraordinary

So, let us give thanks to ferociously uncompromising vocalist and
pianist Diamanda Galas. For more than 20 years the New Yorker has
purged devastating performances about plagues and apocalypse on an
steadily expanding international cultdom.

Her latest double CD, Defixiones: Will and Testament continues
the bleakness. Focusing on victims of Armenian, Assyrian and Greek
genocides, Galas growls, hisses, groans and shrieks while clawing
at the piano like Chopin possessed, creating a soundscape that’s
terrifying and beautiful.

On the phone from her home, the artist is an open book; today’s
chapter is a dark one, revealing what she’d like to do to the “inept
imbeciles,” who three weeks ago cancelled her entire U.S. tour —
while she was one show into it. (Her Tuesday concert at the Vogue
was independently arranged.)

Hard to believe, but yes, someone dared cross Diamanda Galas.

“The guy’s a spoiled, rich boy, vice-president of the company,” she
seethes. “What he doesn’t understand is that while he has all this
money, I’m doing what they say when they tell drug addicts to watch
themselves because, ‘your addiction is doing push-ups while you’re
relaxing.’ I’m the one doing push-ups while he’s relaxing. He’s going
to pay.”

I commiserate with her and steer the conversation back to her work.
But she immediately slides into describing the revenge she’s going to
take on this guy — to the point where I begin to wonder what toll it
takes on an artist to be acclaimed as the “Diva of the Dispossessed.”
To thoroughly research, record and tour extreme music that fixates
on the biggest, saddest themes. What kind of woman becomes a legend
for AIDS-related works such as Plague Mass, Litanies of Satan and
the Masque of the Red Death Trilogy?

She is the same woman who has also just released La Serpenta Canta,
crucial interpretations of blues and country standards by Hank
Williams, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and others.

She is the same artist who says, “there is genius in this world and
Janis Joplin had it.”

She is the same woman who slams “that monkey” president for among other
things, his voice: “You don’t even have to listen to what he has to
say! Listen to the resonance of that little guy. His intelligence is
radiated in that little sign wave of his.”

She is the same artist who describes the most intense moments of her
performance as “going beyond myself. It’s like a gift. Everything is
free and you want to keep going as much as you can in that direction.
It’s beautiful.”

But ultimately, Galas is an angry woman. Her ability to focus on
monstrosity, she admits, is not balanced by a content state of mind.
“The times that everything seems just perfect are very few. I think
some of us are in positions where we have to do a lot of fighting and
that becomes a central part of our existence. So, when you actually
have the opportunity of doing something as enchanting as music,
it keeps you alive for the rest of this crap; it allows you to get
through those things. If you get too introverted when you’re going
through a very difficult stage, that’s the place where people usually
hang themselves.

You’re a very lucky person if you can do something that takes you
beyond it. For some people there’s no escape. ”

She has described the truth of her conviction as “having her own

“It’s about fighting until the end to defend your beliefs, what it
is you feel you were put on this planet to experience. You believe
in the blessing that it is to be alive and you know how limited and
short that can be. So everything is a fight against people who put
you in a position of slavery. And I don’t mean black slavery; in
terms of Albanians, rape of Bosnians — there’s so much of this all
over the world in different forms. So let’s not use the word slavery.
It’s a fight against being treated like a dog. That’s my religion.”

GRAPHIC: Photo: New Yorker Diamanda Galas plays the Vogue on Tuesday.