Diamanda‘s Roadburn presence only comes as a surprise to those unfamiliar with her work and persona. She has been one of the most extreme artists in the music scene for more than 30 years, putting black metal bands and shock rockers to shame, and her influence is undeniable to many of Roadburn’s closest friends: from Attila Csihar to this year’s curator Lee Dorrian, many have praised her as a primary inspiration. But despite her unsettling performances (often described by many as avant-garde, experimental and operatic) her appeal to the metal and rock communities goes beyond her musical output.
One look into her repertoire and you know she is not one to be messed with. Her tongue is as sharp as her nails and her reasoning as deeply committed as her voice. She speaks fiercely about what many avoid, and in a way that many seem to fear: magazines have named her “The Devil Woman” and many TV channels have banned her for being a “Satanist”. Her stances on subjects as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, mental disorders, war, rape culture, misogyny or ageism usually don’t go hand in hand with the mainstream capitalist agenda and orthodox religious views; hence this urge to associate her with immorality, Satanism or sinful hustles.
Her insolence disturbs. She was arrested, in ’89, during a performance inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York: one of her many ferocious crusades against the Christian hypocrisy regarding safe sex campaigns and homophobia. Her chosen weapons seem, at times, to be the ones of the enemy: using religious buildings as her stage, religious writings as her lyrics, subverting rape culture and misogynist violence by turning men into her victims. Violence and blood are central parts of her artistic endeavours.
It does help this “magnetism” to see her powerful persona shattering the privileged academic magnifier during interviews: Diamanda’s speech reflects her knowledge and educated self but flows with familiar vocabulary, withholding any pompous “douchery”. It is the language of her people. The language of the misfits, the “witches”, the imprisoned. One could even say her entire oeuvre is a study of imprisonment/freedom. From illness to revenge, most of these can be seen, in a way, as a form of captivity and/or the search for some sort of liberation. Her performances inside mental health institutions and churches can also be seen as an exploration of these dichotomies. «Schrei 27», screening Saturday at the Het Patronaat, is yet another reflection on torture and human confinement inside a mental health facility. The film/documentary, directed by Davide Pepe in collaboration with Diamanda Galás herself (more information here), will precede a Q&A, a one in a lifetime opportunity to acknowledge “the devil woman” speaking in the first person about her work.
On Friday, her first act «Death Will Come And Have Your Eyes» will be presented along the lines of her voice and piano performances, with poems by Cesare Pavese and Henri Michaux, among others.
If you are curious or looking for a vast analysis of her body of work, we would suggest Luca Zanchi‘s «Lament and Curse: An Introduction to Diamanda Galás», a book with the artist’s seal of approval, or the cosmic interview/essay database on her official website.