Diamanda Galás (born 1955) is an American avant-garde composer, vocalist, pianist, organist, performance artist, and painter.
Galás has been described as "capable of the most unnerving vocal terror", with her three and a half octave vocal range. Her works largely concentrate on the topics of AIDS, mental illness, despair, injustice, condemnation, and loss of dignity. She has worked with many avant-garde composers, including Iannis Xenakis, Vinko Globokar and John Zorn, and also collaborated with jazz musician Bobby Bradford, and John Paul Jones, former bassist of Led Zeppelin.
Diamanda Galás was born and raised in San Diego, California, to Greek Orthodox parents. She studied a wide range of musical forms, and played gigs in San Diego with her father, also a musician, performing Greek and Arabic music. After moving to Europe, Galas made her solo 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 Amnesty International's documentation of the arrest and torture of a Turkish woman for alleged treason.
Galás' first album was The Litanies of Satan, released in 1982. Her second album, Diamanda Galas, was released in 1984.
Diamanda Galás' work first garnered widespread attention with The Masque of the Red Death, an operatic trilogy which includes The Divine Punishment, Saint of the Pit and You Must Be Certain of the Devil. In it, she details the suffering of people with AIDS. Shortly after the recording of the trilogy's first volume began, her brother, playwright Philip-Dimitri Galás, became sick with the disease, which goaded Galás to redouble her efforts. Philip-Dimitri Galás died in 1986, just before the completion of the trilogy.
Galás began writing and performing on the subject of AIDS in 1984, while living in San Francisco. In 1988 she joined ACT UP, the AIDS activist group.
On December 10, 1989, Galás was arrested inside Saint Patrick's Cathedral, as part of ACT UP's Stop the Church demonstration, while protesting John Cardinal O'Connor's opposition to AIDS education, and the distribution of condoms in public schools. She was one of 53 people arrested inside the cathedral.
In 1990 Galás performed at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York, the recording of which was released in 1991 as Plague Mass, in which she criticized the Roman Catholic Church for its indifference to AIDS.
Galás also sings in a Blues style, interpreting a wide range of blues songs with her unique piano and vocal styles. This aspect of her work is perhaps best represented by her 1992 album, The Singer, on which she covered Willie Dixon, Roy Acuff, and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, as well as "Gloomy Sunday", a song written by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress in 1933 and translated into English by Desmond Carter.
In 1993 Galás released Judgement Day, a video of her performances, and Vena Cava, a live album, recorded at The Kitchen in 1992.
In 1994 Galás collaborated with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, a longtime admirer of the singer. The resulting record, The Sporting Life, was released the same year. She was also featured on the soundtrack for Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers.
In 1995 Galás contributed her voice to the eponymous album of British synth-pop duo, Erasure, at the invitation of the lead singer, Andy Bell.
Galás has published one book, The Shit of God, in 1996. It contains many of her original writings. Also in 1996, she released Schrei X, a live recording.
In 1997 Galás contributed vocals to the album Closed on Account of Rabies, a tribute to Edgar Allan Poe which also included Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Marianne Faithfull, lending their voices to the tales of the legendary author. Galás' reading of "The Black Cat" was the longest recording on the compilation.
In 1998 Galás released Malediction and Prayer, which was recorded live in 1996 and 1997.
In 2000 Galás worked with Recoil, contributing her voice to the album Liquid. She's the lead vocalist on the album's first single, "Strange Hours", for which she also wrote the lyrics, and can be heard on "Jezebel" and "Vertigen" as a backing vocalist.
In August 2004 Galás released the album Defixiones, Will and Testament: Orders from the Dead, an 80-minute memorial to the Armenian, Greek, Assyrian and Hellenic victims of the Turkish genocide. Defixiones refers to the warnings on Greek gravestones against removing the remains of the dead. In December 2004 Galás released, La Serpenta Canta a live album including material recorded between May 1999 & November 2002.
In 2005 Galás was awarded Italy's prestigious Demetrio Stratos International Career Award.
In 2008 Galás released her seventh live album, Guilty Guilty Guilty.
Galás' vocals from her song "Orders from the Dead" were used on the album Aealo by Greek black metal band Rotting Christ, released in February 2010.
In 2011 she collaborated with Soviet dissident artist Vladislav Shabalin for "Aquarium", a sound installation inspired by the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The event took place at Leonhardskirche in Basel (Switzerland) from June 12 to 19.*
In 2013, Diamanda Galás and Vladislav Shabalin have the sound installation "Aquarium" May 9 to 12 in the church of San Francesco in Udine (Italy), at the festival "Vicino/Lontano".
Galás has often worked in the film industry. She was the voice of the dead in The Serpent and the Rainbow. A cover of the Schwartz-Dietz song "Dancing in the Dark" appears in Clive Barker's film Lord of Illusions during the closing credits. "Le Treizième Revient" and "Exeloume" appear on the soundtrack to Derek Jarman's The Last of England. She contributed vocals to Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film Dracula as a group of female vampires, and vocal improvisation to Nideo Hakata's 2005 film The Ring Two. Excerpts from Galás' "I Put a Spell on You", "Vena Cava", "The Lord is My Shepherd", and "Judgement Day" can be heard in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers.
In 2011, she premiered the film Schrei 27, made in collaboration with Italian filmmaker Davide Pepe. Based on Galás' 1994 radio piece, Schrei X, a co-commission of New American Radio and the Walker Art Center, the film is described as an "unrelenting" portrait of a body suffering torture in a medical facility.
Most recently she contributed vocal work and composition to James Wan's 2013 horror film The Conjuring, and "Free Among the Dead", from Galás' The Divine Punishment was featured in Zoe Mavroudi's 2013 documentary about the criminalization of AIDS, Ruins: Chronicle of an HIV Witch-Hunt.
Galás has cited multiple artists as influences on her music, including Maria Callas, John Lee Hooker, and Johnny Cash. She is also influenced greatly by Greek and Middle Eastern styles of singing, as well as blues music.
- 1982 – The Litanies of Satan
- 1984 – Diamanda Galás, re-released as Panoptikon
- 1986 – The Divine Punishment
- 1986 – Saint of the Pit
- 1988 – You Must Be Certain of the Devil
- 1989 – Masque of the Red Death Trilogy: The Divine Punishment, Saint of the Pit, and You Must Be Certain of the Devil
- 1991 – Plague Mass (Live)
- 1992 – The Singer
- 1993 – Vena Cava (Live)
- 1994 – The Sporting Life, with John Paul Jones
- 1996 – Schrei X (Live)
- 1998 – Malediction & Prayer (Live)
- 2003 – La Serpenta Canta (Live)
- 2003 – Defixiones, Will and Testament (Live)
- 2008 – Guilty Guilty Guilty (Live)
- 1986 – The Litanies of Satan (VHS)
- 1993 – Judgement Day (VHS)
- 1988 – Double-Barrel Prayer
- 1988 – Do You Take This Man?
- 1996 – The Shit Of God (Book)
- Batchelder, Edward. "." New Music Box — "People & Ideas in Profile." November 1, 2003. Interview and accompanying video.
- Bluefat.com (eds.). "." Interview from March 2008.
- Fischer, Tobias. "." tokafi, August 24, 2005.
- Golden, Barbara. "Conversation with Diamanda Galás." (April 2010). Montréal: CEC.
- Hellenism.net (eds.). . July 2009.
- Sound installation "Aquarium". June 12–19, 2011.
- Sound installation "Aquarium" 9.05.2013–12.05.2013.
- An by John Payne will be published in 2014
- at the Internet Movie Database