Diamanda Galás (born August 29, 1955) is a Greek-American avant-garde performance artist, vocalist, and composer. Galás was born and raised in San Diego, California, USA.
Galás is known for being a fiercely confrontational avant-garde performer and is noted for her wailing, four-octave vocal range. Galás was the daughter of Greek Orthodox parents and her singing was roundly discouraged, although her prowess as a classical pianist was nurtured; ultimately, her strict upbringing resulted in a reckless, drug-fueled youth prior to her entrance into the University of California's music and visual arts program. Galás made her performing debut in 1979 at France's Festival d'Avignon, which led to an invitation to assume the lead role in composer Vinko Globokar's politically charged opera Un Jour Comme un Autre. In subsequent solo performance art pieces like Wild Women with Steak Knives and Tragouthia Apo to Aima Exon Fonos, Galás further honed her unique, shattering vocal style, inspired by the Schrei ("shriek") opera of German expressionism (a form employing a system of four microphones and a series of echoes and delays).
She worked with many avant-garde composers including Phillip Glass, Terry Riley, John Zorn, Iannis Xenakis and Vinko Globokar. She made her performance debut at the Festival d'Avignon in France as the lead in Globokar's opera, Un Jour Comme Une Autre which deals with the death by torture of a Turkish woman. The work was sponsored by Amnesty International. She also contributed her voice to Francis Ford Coppola's film Dracula (1992) and appeared on the film's soundtrack.
Her work first garnered widespread attention with the controversial 1991 live recording of the album "Plague Mass" in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York. With it, Galás attacked the Catholic Church for its indifference to AIDS using biblical texts. In the words of Terrorizor Magazine, "The church was made to burn with sound, not fire." Plague Mass was a live rendition of excerpts from her same-titled trilogy which began as a response/homage/indictment to the multitudinous effects of AIDS upon the silent class - of which her brother was a member. During the period of these recordings, Galás had "We are all HIV+" tattooed upon her knuckles; an artistic expression of disillusionment and disgust with the ignorance and apathy surrounding the AIDS epidemic. Her brother, who died during the trilogy's final production, reportedly appreciated her efforts.
Susan McClary (1991) writes that Galás, "heralds a new moment in the history of musical representation," after describing her thus: "Galás emerged within the post-modern performance art scene in the seventies…protesting…the treatment of victims of the junta, attitudes towards victims of AIDS…Her pieces are constructed from the ululation of traditional Mediterranean keening…whispers, shrieks, and moans."
In 1994, Galás collaborated with Led Zeppelin bass guitarist John Paul Jones. The resultant record, "The Sporting Life", while containing much of Galás's trademark vocal gymnastics, is probably the closest she has ever come to rock music.
Galás also performs as a blues artist interpreting a wide range of songs into her unique piano and vocal styles. This aspect of her work is perhaps best represented by her 1992 album, "The Singer" where she covered the likes of Willie Dixon, Roy Acuff, and Screamin' Jay Hawkins while accompaning herself on piano. For that album, she also recorded several traditional songs as well as the rarely heard Desmond Carter-penned version of Gloomy Sunday. Many of her selections both within and outside of blues repertoire have sometimes been categorized as 'homicidal love songs'. She also focuses on the death penalty. One program of songs, "Frenzy", has been dedicated to Aileen Wuornos and features the work of Phil Ochs and Hank Williams Sr.