Refers to the warnings engraved in lead which were placed on the graves of the dead in Greece, Asia Minor,
and elsewhere in the Middle East. They cautioned against moving or desecrating the corpses under threat of extreme harm.
WILL AND TESTAMENT
refers to the last wishes of the dead who have been taken to their graves under unnatural circumstances.
DEFIXIONES, WILL AND TESTAMENT
speaks for individuals who have had to live as outlaws, as they were treated as outlaws;
and for those who have had to create houses out of rock.
DEFIXIONES, WILL AND TESTAMENT is dedicated to the forgotten and erased of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek
genocides that occurred in Asia Minor, Pontos, and Thrace between 1914 and 1923.
The Middle Passage. The Nazi Holocaust. The decimation of the Incas, Aztecs, and the North American Tribes. Rwanda, Kosovo,
East Timor. In acknowledging genocide, it’s not enough to merely provide a taxonomy of cases or a litany of symptoms. We
need catharsis, redemption, and a vision to move forward. Apart from the legendary Paul Robeson, no singer has had as keen –
or as empathic – an understanding of this fact as Diamanda Galás.
Confronting the AIDS pandemic in 1990 with Plague Mass, Galás asked us, “Were You a Witness?” The question remains, and
it isn’t just rhetorical; it’s a direct challenge to the collusion of silence and passivity within each of us as yet another
pogrom is played out and marched through the media for mass consumption. In this context, the “Will and Testament” of
Defixiones refers not only to the last wishes of the dead, but also to the testament of the living – those who have borne witness
– and to the will to survive.
With Defixiones, Galás excavates the memory of the so-called “minor holocaust” of Asia Minor (the Armenian, Assyrian, and
the Anatolian and Pontic Greek genocides that occurred between 1914 and 1923), long buried and perpetually denied in the
name of a new European Community. By recovering these campaigns, committed by the Ottoman Turks and condoned by Allied
nations to protect economic and strategic interests, Galás links their atrocities to other histories of oppression:
incarceration, torture, slavery, exile, epidemics and execution. Yet the work at hand is no simple archaeology. We need look
only as far as the continued struggle for a Palestinian state, the internment of Afghan rebels at Camp X-ray in Guantanamo
Bay, and the recent routing and systematic plundering of Iraq to grasp the relevance of Defixiones. This music calls upon us
to continue the fight to remember and to commemorate – to keep up the fight for our ancestors, our loved ones, and ourselves.
Defixiones fuses all the modes – textual, linguistic, and sonic – that have made Diamanda Galás both famous and infamous,
from her formal capabilities to her radical interpretive skills to her electronic manipulations of the voice. Her spectral
presence, uncompromising moral stance, and unflinching outspokenness are all abundant here. We hear the brilliance and
veracity of her artistic forbears. She calls them forth even as she becomes the conduit to the persecution of her blood
ancestry. Descended from the very people forced into the desert on death marches or pushed into the Aegean Sea, Galás has
referred to this performance as the deepest part of her soul, just as she considers the poets whose work she deploys —each
one a dissident — to be her blood brothers.
Defixiones opens with The Dance, a 35-minute opus that unveils the true horrors of political persecution and ethnic
“cleansing.” Bookended by the Armenian liturgy, “Ter Vogormia,” The Dance (through Siamanto’s poem of the same name)
relays eyewitness testimony to torture and human sacrifice as Armenian women are tormented then burned alive. Via Adonis’
“The Desert,” it also conveys the desolation of someone regarded as stateless in his very own land, recalling as it does
Israel’s occupation of Lebanon under the charge of then-General Ariel Sharon. “You die because you are the face of the
future,” Adonis writes, an assertion of the lethal consequences of cultural nationalism or the belief in racial purity.
The gravity of these poems is obvious, but it’s Diamanda’s interpretation of them that’s so affecting. Ultimately, though, it’s
the utter abjection expressed in “Sevda Zinçiri” that brings the specificity of individual suffering into acute and unrelenting
focus. This lament is infinitely multiplied in “Holokaftoma,” where it quickly transforms into incomprehensible terror. The
conflagration of Armenian brides converges with the torching of an Armenian church (its congregation trapped inside), and
the drowning of the Anatolian Greeks of Smyrna, (denied refuge by Allied warships, detached sentinels floating at the furthest
edge of the harbor). Diamanda spits out Pasolini’s final text of defiance (excerpts from a poem composed just before his
murder) until we return to “Ter Vogormia,” its plea for deliverance emptied now of any conviction.
“The Eagle of Tkhuma” serves as a somber interlude depicting the desperation of Christian Assyrians at the hands of the
Ottomans before Diamanda offers her own recitative, “Orders from the Dead.” Its incantatory refrain stretches back some
eighty years, conjuring with surgical precision images of fascistic brutality and murder during the burning of the city of
Smyrna (now called Izmir). Yet this threnody reverberates right up through the present moment. It issues forth in the wake
of U.S. occupation of Iraq and the uncovering of mass graves that held the bodies of those goaded by Imperial forces into rising
up against their ruler, only to be abandoned by the would-be liberators.
The orders rising from the grave are to remember exactly how and why the body was butchered and by whom, to honor the
life once housed in that body and the ceaseless mourning of its loss. Everything here is underscored by the soundscape of a
humanity besieged by drumbeats of death, turning machinery of torture, and the echoing cries of carrion crows. True to her
nature, Diamanda leaves no room for easy sentimentality. By the time we’ve reached the end of this march, we are left adrift
in the desert amidst blowing sand.
“Hastayim Yasiyorum” opens the second disc, its plaintiveness bringing us back into the house of suffering, longing, and
despair. An Armenian song composed in Turkish (It is useful to remember that Armenians in Turkey were forbidden to speak
their own language.), it is closely allied in form and content to “Sevda Zinçiri” and to the two rembetika included here: “San
Peqanw sto Karabi” and “Anoixe.” Rembetika, a vernacular Greek song referred to at times as hashish music, expresses the
sorrows of the dispossessed – the lovelorn, the addicted, the tubercular, and the imprisoned.
The unadorned sadness of “Hastayim Yasiyorum” gives way to the seeming resignation of “San Peqanw sto Karabi,” in which
the singer relinquishes her body to the sea. But this particular rendition is infused with enough anger to make us question
just how ready the subject really is to slide beneath the water’s surface, whereupon we are launched into “Je Rame,”
Diamanda’s adaption of Michaux’s “hex” poem. As with Diamanda’s entire corpus, “Je Rame” is an invective against the
quiet acceptance of death by unnatural causes. “I am rowing,” goes the refrain. “I am rowing against your life.” The “life”
referred to is that of death’s harbinger, the wraith who “reek[s] far and wide of the crypt.” And as oars hitting the water
morph into the flapping wings of death birds, we “split into countless rowers” in absolute defiance.
Rowing against a murderous fate, we arrive at the shores of forced exile with “Epístola a Los Transeúntes,” its whimsical
waltz offering a moment of reprieve. But this calm belies a brooding indignation. Before us are the reflections of a man
stricken by poverty and illness, stranded in a foreign land, his small room a virtual prison cell as he considers his fate,
depression turned to a festering sickness in the bowels, intensified by the anticipation of death’s arrival. We are spirited off
by the melody as Galás proves once again her virtuosity as a pianist, the rondo accelerating to a frenetic pace as Diamanda
delivers Vallejo’s closing verses. Repeated in rapid succession they decry a quintessential existential moment, the revelation
of life’s randomness, a belief in non-belief arising from genuine despair.
And so the angels arrive in “Birds of Death,” reprised here along with “Artémis” from the “AIDS trilogy,” Masque of the
Red Death, and recast in the context of middle-eastern musics. The bottomless pit of sorrow transmitted through these two
numbers ricochets back to the opening of Defixiones, exposing the limitlessness of human misery. In this arrangement of
“Birds” raw anger has taken flight; the anguish is now turned inward as we are brought to the bedside of the beloved, holding
vigil. Inclusion of “Birds” as well as “Artémis” is significant as it traces a clear trajectory of Diamanda’s intellectual and
artistic development, and it betrays a fundamental ethos: Pain (psychic and corporeal) is administered in myriad ways. One
form of suffering cannot be separated from the other. Whether it’s death caused by benign neglect or the willful slaughter of
millions, establishing a hierarchy of persecution is not only useless, but also dangerous.
On a more intimate level, “Birds of Death” and “Artémis” each carry forth the legacy of Philip Dimitri Galás, Diamanda’s
brother who, in life and death, has continued to serve as a guiding force. Honoring his memory yet again in Defixiones could
not be more appropriate. But this personal stroke is linked once more to the worldly in “Todesfuge,” Paul Celan’s poem
about survival in Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps where European Jews (as well as Catholics,
homosexuals, and other “undesirables”) were collected and summarily tortured, starved, then executed. Here the death bird
has transformed into a growling beast; the master — both a dog and a man — barks out commands to his subjects, forcing
them to dig a singular grave while ashes of bodies burnt sift through the air above.
Galás closes Defixiones with her breathtaking account of “See that My Grave is Kept Clean,” just one of her many forays into
the blues and gospel of Black America, aggressive musical forms developed in response to slavery and racism. An astounding
and literal defixio, “Grave” is both a plea and a warning to protect the memory of the deceased. Our failure to do so is indeed
an immense disservice to the dead, and it’s a neglect we exercise at our own peril. Sacred or secular, the preservation of our
individual histories is the only hope against those who try to oppress and condemn us. It is the key to our collective future.
In an era of increasing Imperial dominance – its every move informed by the ancient hatreds of cultural and religious
fundamentalisms – Defixiones could not be more timely. Or timeless. It is at once an interrogation and an edict. It further
asserts Galás’ reputation as the most gifted, vital, and visionary musician of our time. Singer and pianist, poet and composer,
emissary and philosopher, Diamanda reminds us the voice is an instrument that needs to be more than just something finely
honed and rigorously developed; it is the blade that cuts us all to the heart.
—Richard Morrison, June 2003
released November 24, 2003
Ter Vogormia, The Desert pt. 1, The Desert pt. 2, Sevda Zinçiri, Holokaftoma, Ter Vogormia (reprise)
Sevda Zinçiri (anonymous); and "A Desperate Vitality" by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Words by Siamanto (Atom Yarjanian)
Music by Diamanda Galás
Recitation by Shakeh Kadehijan
Liturgical melody "Ter Vogormia" by Marar Yekmalian
with excerpts from "The Desert" by Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said); "Priere-Litanie" (Psalm 34);
Verses 1 - 20
The Diary of Beirut Under Siege, 1982
by Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said) (1930 - )
Translation by Abdullah Al Udhari
The Eagle Of Tkhuma
by Dr. Freidoun Bet-Oraham (Aturaya) (1892 - (1925)
Recitation by Nicholas Bet-Gulawi
Translation from Rising Star, Urmia, 1917, with excerpt from Assyrian Mass in the First Mode (Quadmoyo)
Performed by Boys' choir of Deyruzafaran Monastery, East Turkey
Syrian Orthodox Church, Tradition of Tur Abdin in Mesopotamia
Courtesy of UNESCO
Orders from the Dead
Words: Diamanda Galás
with excerpts from Farewell Anatolia, by Dido Soteriou
Music: “The World Is Going Up in Flames,” by Diamanda Galás
Drum sequencing by Blaise Dupuy
with excerpts from Zikir, by Kudsi Erguner
Courtesy of Ocara Radio France
Excerpts from Farewell Anatolia
by Dido Soteriou (1914- )
Translation by Fred A. Reed for Kedros, Greece
Words and music by Udi Hrant (1901-1978)
If I Die on the Boat
I am Rowing
Words by Henri Michaux (1899-1984)
Music by Diamanda Galás
Translation by David Ball
Epistle to the Transients
Words by César Vallejo (1895-1938)
Music by Diamanda Galás
with excerpts from “The Windows Shuttered”
Translation by Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia
The Windows Shuddered… (excerpt)
by César Vallejo
Birds of Death
Words and music by Diamanda Galás
Words and music by Yannis Papaioannou (1914-2000)
Words by Paul Celan (1920-1970)
Music by Diamanda Galás
Translation by John Felstiner
Words by Gérard Nerval
Music by Diamanda Galás
Translation by Geoffrey Wagner
See that My Grave is Kept Clean
WILL AND TESTAMENT
Created by Diamanda Galás
Diamanda Galás: composition, voice, piano, arrangements, production
Blaise Dupuy: Recording Producer
Recitations by Shakeh Kadejian and Nicholas Bet-Gulawi
Edited and Mixed at Soutterain Studios, New Jersey and Intravenal Sound Studios, New York City
Special Thanks to Ernest Dupuy
Defixiones was originally commissioned by Wim Wabbes of Centre Vooruit
and first performed on September 11, 1999, at the Gravensteen Towers, The Castle of Gent, Belgium.
It was produced by Ellen Dennis and initial lighting design was by Rudolph Pribitzer.
The U.S. Premiere of Defixiones was on November 29, 2001, at Royce Hall, UCLA, and presented by David Sefton.
All but the following performances were recorded on that evening:
“Je Rame” The Metropolitan, Medellin, Colombia, June 2002
“Todesfuge” Arts International, New York City, June 2002
“See that My Grave is Kept Clean” Aula Magna, Portugal, September 2001
Project manager for Mute Records: Robert Schilling
Project manager for Intravenal Sound Operations: Maia T. Spilman, Esq.
Performance management: Tessa Derfner
Design: Rex Ray
Photography: Austin Young
Gown: David Dalrymple (Dalrympleshow@aol.com)
Makeup: Mathu Andersen
Hair: Andrew Marlin
Production Assistant: Alison Brummer
Editorial Assistance provided by Dick Harlow Productions
Bird Drawing: Robert Knoke
Genocide Photos Courtesy of E. Rigos at Hellenic Genocide (www.greece.org/genocide),
The Estate of Henry Morgenthau, Nadia Seremtakis, Armin Wegner, John Gager, and The National Geographic.
Juan Alfonso Agudelo
Comfenalco Antioquia and Medellin Culturál
Centre Vooruit and the City of Gent
Peter Van den Eeede
Veneziana en personeel, Peter Aerts
The Honorable Reverend Hohvanhes Tertzakian
The Estate of Henry Morgenthau
Nancy Abdel Khaled
Mike the Butcher+CMS
James and Georgianna Galás
Diamanda Galás is a Greek-American avant-garde composer and performer, whose work confronts the subjects of violence and
despair with political conviction and austerity. Galás rose to prominence in the ‘80s and ‘90s with the recorded trilogy, Masque of the Red Death, and the performance work Plague Mass, which addressed the AIDS crisis in a time of deafening political silence and inaction....more
The mallet percussionist and improviser's solo debut is flush with nostalgic melodies and stirring dissonances—a rich, experimental universe well worth exploring. Bandcamp Album of the Day Jan 15, 2021