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Diamanda Galás 

Defixiones: Will and Testament

Wednesday, Feb 18 2004
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With her late-'80s three-album opus Masque of the Red Death and its terrifying epilogue, Plague Mass, classically trained pianist and singer Diamanda Galás confronted the public's ignorance and apathy toward the AIDS epidemic with blasphemous appropriations of biblical texts, horrific speaking/shrieking-in-tongues vocalizations, and sacred-profane blood rituals onstage. On the two-CD set Defixiones: Will and Testament -- her first new recording in five years -- she is similarly provocative, focusing here on themes of genocide and the unimaginable human suffering that resulted from the Turkish slaughter of Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks between 1914 and 1923.

More a haunting soundtrack to a political art piece than a song-based effort, Defixiones draws its musical power from Galás' startling, four-octave vocal range, dramatic keyboard virtuosity, and atmospheric synthesizer undertones. The emotional intensity sustained throughout sets the listener squarely in the pit of hell where men and women are tortured, raped, drowned, starved to death, and burned alive in the name of so-called ethnic cleansing. The hardcover CD booklet underscores the brutality of this "minor holocaust" with historic black-and-white photos that rival those of the Nazi death-camp atrocities.

Galás intones in more than a half-dozen languages, including Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew. She augments her original lyrics with visceral interpretations of poems and texts by an international cast of dissident authors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Henri Michaux, and Adonis. "The Dance," by executed Armenian poet Siamanto, opens the performance with a nightmarish scene: "Dance till you die, infidel beauties ... Dance like a bunch of fuckin' sluts/ We're hot for your dead bodies."

Defixiones is both an indictment (as put forth in the liner notes, the Allied forces ignored this mass murder in the name of strategic military interests, and much of Europe still refuses to admit that it even happened) and a courageous act of commemoration. Galás channels the spirits of the deceased, "who have been taken to their graves under unnatural circumstances," and challenges the living to stare down the face of death, no matter how dark or disturbing, and remember.

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Sam Prestianni

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