Diamanda Galás

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Diamanda Galás
Diamanda Galas at Thalia Hall, Chicago.jpg
Diamanda Galás at Thalia Hall in Chicago, 2016
Background information
Born (1955-08-29) August 29, 1955 (age 64)[1]
San Diego, California, U.S.
Occupation(s)Vocalist, keyboardist, composer
InstrumentsVocals, piano, keyboard, organ
Years active1973–present
LabelsMute Records, Intravenal Sound Operations

Diamanda Galás (born August 29, 1955) is an American soprano sfogato, composer, pianist, organist, performance artist, and painter. She has received international recognition for creating highly original and thought provoking political performance works.[3]

Galás has been described as "capable of the most unnerving vocal terror".[2] 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.[4]

Background and education[edit]

Galás was born and raised in San Diego, California, to a Maniot Greek-American mother from Dover, New Hampshire, Georgiana, and an Egyptian-American father from Lynn, Massachusetts, James, both of whom were Greek Orthodox Christians.[5][6] James' Greek ancestors were from Smyrna, Pontus, and Chios, while one of his grandmothers was an Egyptian from Alexandria. Galás does not refer to her Smyrniote and Pontic ancestry as "Turkish", but rather as Anatolian.[7][8][9] Her father was a gospel choir director who introduced her to classical music. He exposed her to New Orleans jazz and also the classics of their own Greek heritage.

She began playing the piano at the age of 3 under the tutelage of her father. Galas also learned to play the cello and violin, and studied a wide range of musical forms.[10][6]

At 13, Galás began playing gigs in San Diego with her father's band, performing Greek and Arabic music. Galás and her brother Phillip-Dimitri acquired a taste for dark literature at an early age. Their inspirations were Marquis de Sade, Friedrich Nietzsche, Antonin Artaud, and Edgar Allan Poe. Her father encouraged her to play the piano but did not encourage her to sing because he said singing was for "hookers and idiots." [11]

At 14, she made her orchestral debut with the San Diego Symphony as the soloist for Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1.[10][6]

In the 1970s, Galás studied biochemistry at the University of Southern California, specializing in immunology and hematology studies.[12]

Early career[edit]

Galás made her professional debut in Europe while doing post-graduate studies there in 1979.[12] Galas made her solo performance debut later in the year, at the Festival d'Avignon, in France. Performing lead In Un Jour comme un autre, by composer Vinko Globokar,[13] Galas's performance was based upon Amnesty International's documentation of the arrest and torture of a Turkish woman for alleged treason.[14][15]

Her first album was The Litanies of Satan, released in 1982.[16] Her second album, Diamanda Galas, was released in 1984.[17]

Her 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 AIDS, which goaded Galás to redouble her efforts in her activism. Philip-Dimitri Galás died in 1986, just before the completion of the trilogy.[12]


Diamanda Galás at the QE Hall in London

AIDS activism[edit]

Galás began writing and performing on the subject of AIDS in 1984, while living in San Francisco, including a trilogy about AIDS named Masque of the Red Death.[18] In 1986, her brother, playwright Philip-Dimitri Galás, died from AIDS.[18] which inspired her to joining ACT UP, the AIDS activist group.

December 10, 1989, she was arrested inside Saint Patrick's Cathedral, as part of ACT UP's Stop the Church demonstration.[19] The group was protesting John Cardinal O'Connor's opposition to AIDS education and to the distribution of condoms in public schools. Galás was one of 53 people arrested inside the cathedral.

In 1990, Galás performed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, the recording of which was released in 1991 as Plague Mass,[20] in which she criticized the Roman Catholic Church for its indifference to AIDS. Jim Provenzano, writing for the Bay Area Reporter, said that "Galas combined ululating shrieks, whispers and howls with an intensity that left the audience stunned."[21]

In 1990, she appeared in Rosa von Praunheim's documentary Positive about AIDS in the New York gay scene.[22]

Musical performances[edit]

Galás appears on the 1989 studio album Moss Side Story by former Magazine and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds instrumentalist Barry Adamson. Moss Side Story is a "soundtrack for a non-existent film noir".

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,[17] was released the same year. She was also featured on the soundtrack for Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. In 1994, Galas, performed with John Paul Jones on the popular MTV show, the John Stewart show.[23]

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.[24]

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,[17] which was recorded live in 1996 and 1997.

In 2000, Galás worked with Recoil, contributing her voice to the album Liquid. She was 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,[17] 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. Will and Testament refers to the last wishes of the dead who have been taken to their graves under unnatural circumstances.[25]

December 2004, Galás released, La Serpenta Canta a live album including material recorded between May 1999 & November 2002. 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 2008, Galás released her seventh live album, Guilty Guilty Guilty.[17]

In 2011, she collaborated with Soviet dissident artist Vladislav Shabalin on 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.[26] Aquarium was installed at the church of San Francesco in Udine (Italy), at the festival "Vicino/Lontano", from May 9 to 12, 2013.[27]

In 2016, Galás was remixing and remastering her earlier works as well as recording new material.[28]


In 1984, she made a voice cameo appearance, performing the voices for the Japanese assassins and flying weapons in Cannon Films' Ninja III: The Domination.[12]

Galás was the voice of the dead in The Serpent and the Rainbow, she also was the voice of the witch in John Milius's Conan the Barbarian (1982 film).[29] 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.

Galás contributed vocals to Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film, Dracula,[30] as a group of female vampires,

In 2005, Galas had vocal improvisation to Hideo Nakata's 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, Galás premiered the film Schrei 27, made in collaboration with Italian filmmaker Davide Pepe. Based on Galás' 1994 radio piece, Schrei X, and co-commissioned by 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.[31][32]

Most recently, she contributed vocal work and composition to James Wan's 2013 horror film, The Conjuring.

"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.[33]


In 2005, Galás was awarded Italy's prestigious Demetrio Stratos International Career Award.[34]


Galás has cited multiple artists as influences on her music, including Maria Callas, Annette Peacock, Patty Waters, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and Jimi Hendrix.[6] She is additionally influenced greatly by Greek and Middle Eastern styles of singing, and also blues music.[4] Galás has also expressed admiration for the comedian Don Rickles, who she has called "my hero", as well as the work of poets such as Henri Michaux and Georg Heym, and an array of other musicians, including Chet Baker, The Supremes, Gladys Knight, Miki Howard, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, and Adele.[35][6][36]


Long-form videos[edit]

  • 1986 – The Litanies of Satan (VHS)
  • 1993 – Judgement Day (VHS)

Promotional videos[edit]

  • 1988 – Double-Barrel Prayer[37]
  • 1994 – Do You Take This Man?[38]


  • 1996 – The Shit of God
  • 2017 – "Morphine & Others" featured in Outside: An Anthology


  1. ^ "Diamanda Galás". AllMusic. Retrieved September 8, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Kenny, Glenn; Robbins, Ira. "TrouserPress.com :: Diamanda Galas". TrouserPress.com. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  3. ^ "Diamanda's Bio". diamandagalas.com. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Galás, Diamanda. Defixiones, Will & Testament Interview in Italy. Retrieved 2013-01-09 Video on YouTube
  5. ^ "Diamanda Galás, Still Wild and Primal, Returns to the New York Stage".
  6. ^ a b c d e Varga, George. "Diamanda Galás roars back with two new albums. 'Do I still scare people?' she asks. 'Yes.'".
  7. ^ "DIAMANDA GALÁS: IN TUNE WITH DEATH". Anti-Gravity Magazine. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  8. ^ "Diamanda Galas". Hellenism.net. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  9. ^ "DIAMANDA GALÁS: THE POLITICS OF DISQUIET". New Music USA. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Diamanda Galás. Interview in kultur & nöje. Sweden. April 1, 2011. Video on YouTube
  11. ^ "Diamanda Galás Diva of the Dispossessed". exclaim.ca.
  12. ^ a b c d "Diamanda Galás Diva of the Dispossessed". exclaim.ca. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  13. ^ "Diamanda Galás' Discography at Discogs". Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  14. ^ "SCHREI 27: Interview With Diamanda Galás". ScreenAnarchy. April 15, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  15. ^ "Diamanda Galas New York Performances". Greek News. July 23, 2007. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  16. ^ "Litanies of Satan - Diamanda Galás | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  17. ^ a b c d e "Diamanda Galás | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  18. ^ a b Hsu, Hua (April 3, 2017). "Diamanda Galás, Lounge Singer in a World on Fire". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 27, 2017.
  19. ^ Price, Jessica (April 7, 2017). "SGN – Seattle Gay News – Page 27 – Going all the way: Diamanda Galás – Friday, April 7, 2017 – Volume 45 Issue 14". www.sgn.org. Retrieved October 27, 2017.
  20. ^ Breslauer, Jan (October 24, 1993). "MUSIC : Ferociously Yours : Diamanda Galas has made AIDS her subject, to both worldwide criticism and acclaim. Call her a singer, composer, musician or even activist. Just don't call her a performance artist". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 27, 2017.
  21. ^ "The Bay Area Reporter Online | Diva for the dead". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  22. ^ "Positive (1990)". www.imdb.com. Retrieved October 27, 2017.
  23. ^ Mark Zep (September 5, 2015), John Paul Jones with Diamanda Galas John Stewart Show 1994, retrieved November 26, 2017
  24. ^ "Interview with Erasure". OM Magazine, Russia. Archived from the original on March 7, 2001. Retrieved July 8, 2007.
  25. ^ "DEFIXIONES, WILL AND TESTAMENT". diamandagalas.com. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  26. ^ "Aquarium". Shabalin.it. June 12, 2011. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  27. ^ "AQUARIUM: installation by Vladislav Shabalin, sound by Diamanda Galás". Diamanda Galas. May 9, 2013. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  28. ^ "Diamanda's Bio". diamandagalas.com.
  29. ^ "SCHREI 27: Interview With Diamanda Galás". screenanarchy.com.
  30. ^ Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), retrieved November 26, 2017
  31. ^ Turner, Luke. "Diamanda Galas Announces Schrei 27 Film Collaboration". The Quietus. Retrieved November 16, 2013.
  32. ^ Urbaniak, Karolina. "Meltdown Festival: Diamanda Galás and Davide Pepe present Schrei 27". Theupcoming.co.uk. Retrieved November 16, 2013.
  33. ^ "Ruins: Chronicle of an HIV Witch-Hunt". Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  34. ^ "Antiwar Songs (AWS) – Diamanda Galás". www.antiwarsongs.org. Retrieved November 5, 2017.
  35. ^ Weingarten, Christopher R. (January 19, 2017). "Diamanda Galas: Hear Apocalyptic 'O Death' From Her First LP in Years".
  36. ^ Montoro, Philip. "Diamanda Galas on the death of Whitney Houston".
  37. ^ "Diamanda Galas – Double Barrel Prayer". YouTube. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  38. ^ "Diamanda Galas "Do you take this man"". YouTube. Retrieved June 13, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]