Diamanda Galás: The Politics of Disquiet
EDWARD BATCHELDER: Can you talk a little bit about how your work is received? I know that when you perform in Europe, you perform in much more of a concert hall situation than you do in the United States.
DIAMANDA GALÁS: Oh, yeah.
EDWARD BATCHELDER: The perception of your work there is quite different there than it is here.
DIAMANDA GALÁS: Yes. It’s completely different. There’s no comparison. I perform for very large audiences there compared to New York. I could not afford to perform at Carnegie Hall because I do not have the money to produce the concert. You need to produce these concerts. Many artists that perform at Brooklyn Academy of Music must produce their own concerts. They get on the bill, but they spend a lot of money producing concerts. I don’t have that money. So, in Italy these people produce the concerts. I perform a lot in Italy. I perform in Greece, Spain, and Latin America. A lot of the countries that are Latin based get it. They don’t see me as being too much. They understand the emotion because they’re cultures that are constantly screaming, raising their hands, and doing things …the English would call it “over the top.”
EDWARD BATCHELDER: But you also perform a lot in Germany, which of course seems to be the other end of the spectrum from that.
DIAMANDA GALÁS: I don’t perform a lot there. I perform there somewhat nervously. Not because I think anyone is going to do anything to me in Germany, but because the disposition of a lot of Germans just makes me nervous. It just makes me nervous because I’m not the way they are. They’re very contained as people, very contained. I find that very difficult to be around. I feel very inappropriate there. I just feel inappropriate. So I go on stage, I get my money, and I split. It’s kind of like that. I used to say that I felt like they were drawing my blood over there. Now, it’s not because of any kind of political sentiment that I would feel this way, although, many people have their political sentiments about Germany. It’s not that. It’s just a personality thing. It really is.
In this country, nobody knows really how to quantify Greeks, that’s for sure. Most people think the Greeks are a group of people who died long ago, that the original Greeks are all dead. They died in the Golden Age and left behind a great ancient literature and so forth. They’re not aware of Seferis, they’re not aware of Yannis Ritsos, Yiorgos Seferis, and C.P. Cavafy, they’re not aware of a lot of the writers and musicians, they’re not aware of Xenakis, they’re not aware of any of these people. They think that it’s a dead culture. This country, whereas it’s more and more scrupulous, let’s say, about recognizing other cultures, is very remiss in recognizing Middle Eastern cultures, which includes Greek cultures, and even knowing the real meaning of what Egyptian culture is.
For example, in this country we have this stupid film about Achilles with Brad Pitt. Well, no Greek looked like Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt doesn’t look Greek. Why do we have a movie like that? Then, on the other hand, in the black studies classes, they teach that Cleopatra was black. She was Nubian. No! I’m sorry, but she was Greek. She was from the race of Ptolemies. It’s a long road from Nubia to Macedonia, let me tell you that. So what people say is, “Okay, the Greeks are like the Assyrians, nobody knows who they are. They’re a souvlaki culture—you can get your souvlaki and your falafel down the street.” But let me tell you, that guy doesn’t know anything—all the original Greeks are dead. I’ll tell you something as a Greek, they are not dead! I go to Greece every year. They are not dead! And they know when they’re being ripped off and they laugh like hyenas when they hear that Cleopatra “wasn’t Greek.” In this country we miseducate people based on the proportion of their ethnic group to the population. “Okay, alright, you want to be a Cleopatra? Well, you’re X percent of the population, you get to be Cleopatra.” What the fuck it that? So what does that mean, we Greeks now only lay claim to souvlaki stores? So I fight that and get all sorts of repercussions from that, but I don’t give a fuck.
EDWARD BATCHELDER: On a related level of the reception, to get back to the issue of political music, do have any hopes for an impact for the work that you do? You made a comment once that your voice had been given to you for the torment of your enemies. Do you see this project, for instance, as in any way contributing some small amount of weight…
DIAMANDA GALÁS: …of torment to my enemies? Absolutely, and that brings me gigantic joy. I have always been more delighted by the misery of my enemies that my own joy in succeeding in something. I’m not really sure why that is, it must be a Greek inheritance because I really, really love that sort of thing. People will say that’s a very low consciousness and I would have to agree. But I have no reason to desert it. [laughs] I see no reason to desert it.
EDWARD BATCHELDER: Do you see this, the Defixiones project in particular and the earlier AIDS projects, as adding any weight to a certain side of the scale in terms of contributing information and contributing to the public consciousness?
DIAMANDA GALÁS: Yes, my Web site is already listed on one of the top Turkish hate lists, and I didn’t even try to get there. [laughs] I mean, they have all these people that they are convinced hate the entire Turkish population. That is not what I’m talking about. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the same thing these women are talking about, a lot of whom starved themselves to death to object to the prison situations in Turkey, many of whom when they go to prison get raped and tortured, many of whom go to prison because of having been raped and tortured, then telling the police and then getting sent back to prison. There are so many injustices. Turkey is really a frightening country if you try to raise your hand in a different direction. It’s a very, very frightening country. These are the things I object to. I don’t object to the right of a person to be a Turk and to live in Turkey. But you know, if these people want to put me on a Turkish hate list, fine. The people who put me on the list, they’re the ones that I hate. No problem, no problem. I have no trouble discussing what I don’t like. None. After all, that’s American isn’t it?