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The Deep End 

First AIDS, now genocide . . . Diamanda Galás won’t lighten up

Wednesday, Nov 21 2001
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You might call Diamanda Galas a singer, but that’d be a paltry account of it. Singers make us snap our fingers and tap our toes, even fill us with joy and all that. Galas can play that role, but she does it as the bearer of really bad news. Yes, she‘s the one they call the Beacon of Bleak, the Dark Diva of Doom ’n‘ Disease, all that trivializing stuff. The sneeringly stately, black-haired, wild-eyed Greek-American with the ferocious four-octave vocal range and the blood-freezing stage presence; she’s the one who feels true hatred. Do not cross this bad bitch -- she‘ll slit ya face.

But Diamanda Galas is a bit anxious today. “This is such an important interview for me that I have to tell you I’ve been very nervous about it.”

“That makes two of us.”

“The subject is so unbelievable, so unspeakable -- especially at this particular time -- the resonance is almost killing me.” She laughs, ambiguously.

We‘re trying to get a fix on Galas’ new piece, Defixiones, Will and Testament: Orders From the Dead, a solo voice and piano work she‘ll perform at Royce Hall on November 29. A typically harrowing thing based on texts related to the Armenian and Anatolian Greek massacres of 1915 and 1922, its arcing theme is genocide in its various guises, and its cowardly denial. Which, owing to issues arising post--September 11, now seems a bit relevant.

Galas, the monstrously mighty vocal virtuoso who has received both acclaim and infamy as the creator of AIDS-related musicperformance pieces such as Plague Mass, Litanies of Satan and The Masque of the Red Death trilogy, as usual has already gotten her serving of flak stemming from the “controversial” nature of Defixiones’ subject matter. After performances in Ghent and at London‘s Royal Festival Hall, she was scheduled to perform it in Armenia, but the powers that be got shaky.

“The problem with a lot of countries that are very impoverished,” she says, “is that the ruling classes are greedy, and in this case the director of the opera house -- a throwback to the Bolsheviks -- he started to censor my work. He was very worried about it even before I came there, even though it was dealing with the Armenian genocide. And so, at the last minute, he canceled me.”

That was a big mistake. If you’re going to deny Diamanda Galas, you‘d best have convictions you can stand on, and be prepared to defend them -- because Galas the ardent researcherscholar will always have done her homework. And she wasted that guy:

“I sent out a worldwide press release to humiliate him. I succeeded because he said the Armenian people were too conservative and too timid for this kind of work. He was speaking from his own fear and his own greed.”

Fear and greed piss off Diamanda Galas no end. But for her, to tell lies -- to break faith, to distort facts, to deny history -- is an abomination.

“The U.S. doesn’t want to recognize the Armenian genocide because it‘s going to bed with Turkey. Now is not the time to discuss an Armenian genocide, and now will never be the time to discuss these things ’because we have our national security to think of and that of Armenia,‘ said the Clinton administration one year ago. Selling billions of dollars of attack helicopters to Turkey to safeguard its national security and that of Israel -- these things get in the way of settling an old score of minor players, so to speak.

”Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres calls the Armenian Genocide Resolution ’meaningless‘ and says to the Turkish Daily News [April 10, 2001], ’We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through, but not a genocide.‘ Peres does this while asking Turkey to support Israel against the Palestinians, and going into business with them in their purchase and possible co-production of the Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile interceptor -- developed by the U.S. and Israel --and while discussing the sale of Turkish water to Israel. Turkey threatens not to renew the mandate for U.S. forces using the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey to patrol the no-fly zone in northern Iraq -- if there is any mention of ’an Armenian genocide.‘

“We have a lesser but nonetheless painful situation with our leaders in Greece, who are so crazy about peace with the Turks that they turned in [Kurdish separatist rebel leader] Abdullah Ocalan as a gesture of friendship. It is never the time to give any kind of importance to people of no importance.”

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