HELLENISM.NET: Diamanda, hello from everyone at Hellenism.Net and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
HELLENISM.NET: Where were you born, and is your real given name “Diamanda Galas”?
Athamandia is the first name, meaning adamantine. Here I use Diamanda. My father’s father was often called Philip Souli, out of respect.
HELLENISM.NET I read in one of your interviews that your father is an Anatolian Greek and your mother is from Mani. What part of Asia Minor is your father from?
My mother is a Maniatissa, but born in Dover, New Hampshire, where she worked for six dollars a week in her father’s restaurant, Nicks’ Lunch, for nine years, along with eight brothers and sisters. My father is a Smyrnaic Greek with an Egyptian grandmother from Alexandria. He was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, and worked in the shoe factories and as a union musician for years before joining the Army. Eventually, my father went to the university and my mother as well, at his insistence, and this changes their lives. Nevertheless, to support the family, my father had to work as a janitor aside from his other work as a musician and a teacher, while my mother went to school.
HELLENISM.NET My great-grandparents came from Anatolia too (Smyrna). They had to leave their homes and properties behind after the Greek holocaust of 1922 and move to Greece. There, they were treated like garbage by the “mainland Greeks”. To this day I find that many Greeks all around the world often times treat their own kin very badly while they bend over backward for the “xenoi”. During your career, have you ever been treated badly by fellow Greeks?
I agree that the Greeks treat each other very poorly, with very few exceptions. It is the self-loathing of the slave, perhaps. At least we are not clannish people, which I detest as an individual. However, it is necessary to support those Greeks we respect or our culture will cease to exist since it is currently claimed by non-Greeks “scholars” and other kleftes worldwide in America, Britain, Turkey, FYROM, and so on. This is idiotic. Whoever thought the Slavs and Afro-American” scholars” (who nothing about East Africa, not to mention Egypt, and readily dismiss West Africa, where THEIR people are from), would find an unholy bond as thieves of the Ptolemies?
I refer to Martin Bernal’s book BLACK ATHENA, which came out years ago, but is now being used in the curriculum in Italian universities. How long will this book take to reach Greece? As concerns “the new Macedonia,” in this country Cleopatra, for one, is rarely recognized as Greek. She is either Elizabeth Taylor or Cleopatra Jones. It is unquestionable that she will next be featured as a Slavic queen by the “New Macedonians,” whilst already being hailed as a Nubian Queen by Bernal. This will become a problem and will provide endless entertainment, to be sure. Except by those who will throw hand grenades at the screen in Thessaloniki.
I accompany every performance worldwide with the correct information and true Greeks would do this and DO do this, and the finest scholars from Austria, Germany, and England do this as well (see Mary R. Lefkowitz’s book, Black Athena Revisited).
And yes, the refugees from Smyrna, who were living in open sewers, were treated like garbage by the mainland Greeks, speaking only Turkish as many of them did, having not been allowed to speak Greek in Turkey. Then only two decades later came the Nazis, and history forgets our refugees, especially American history which forgets them and remembers disinformationalist propaganda spread by Bernard Lewis and Heath W. Lowry. And the rabbis who turned in their own people, while the Greeks hid them, and some of these were Greeks who had survived the Turkish genocides only twenty years ago, are not mentioned. Instead, Jewish tourist journals say that Thessaloniki is an anti-Semitic place. Need I remind scholars that it was a killing ground for the Greeks as well, who fought bravely from garrets and starved to death?
Add that years later many Jews voted for a street to commemorate Attaturk in Thessaloniki? Fortunately, the head of the committee got mowed down by a truck.
On the other hand, Greeks who worry about Jews have better things to do like help their OWN PEOPLE rather than envying the supposed success of other ethnic groups. We are wealthier than the Jews in America but we do not invest in our great scholars, like Speros Vryonis or Stavros Stavrides, but promote Constantine Maroulis and John Stamos in silly magazines. What can I possibly say?
Yes, the Greeks love the xenoi while hating them at the same time, but not as much as they hate each other. Ask Patrick Leigh Fermor, who, if he is still alive, can still not understand this, and he fought with the Cretan fighters, as you well know. Greeks should not be speaking out of the sides of their mouths but directly to the press and the people, and stop taking money from German tourists since they don’t like them. Yes, it IS easy for me to say because I do NOT do anything I do not want to do and I have a very hard life supporting myself as an artist in this country.
And let us also discuss the refusal by the mainland of Greece to recognize the genius of Cavafy and Kazantzakis until they were long dead. The Greeks of the Diaspora have long been treated with contempt.
HELLENISM.NET It’s obvious from your shows and interviews that you speak at least some Greek. Are you fluent in Greek?
I do speak Greek but it is lacking. I work very hard on my conversational Greek and it is my duty as a Greek to learn the language. It is the songs that teach me the most. The paradox is that my accent is excellent and that I was born singing Amanethes with ease and, as Maria Farandouri told me many years ago, my voice has a Smrynaic sound. Many of us have origins in the Black Sea, as well, and my father has always said many of his relatives were also from Colchis, the Pontic area, and were Psaltis.
It is paradoxical that my Spanish is far better than my Greek, but then I was born only ten minutes from Tijuana, and, in any case, California is considered by most of us as Mexico, so you might say I am a Mexican Greek.
On a different note, music claimed by Uzbekistan is also Pontic Greek music. As usual, revisionists leave out the fact that there IS no “Muslim” or “Christian” music, only the music that was created by the inhabitants of particular areas of the world who collaborated as musicians and artists to create something new. Only later, with ethnic cleansing, are imbecilic comments like ” the Sufi music of the Muslims,” or “Turkish” music used. Anatolian music was actually a collaboration of Greeks, Assyrians, Armenians, Gypsies, Jews, Arabs and Turks, and the idea that there is a definitive Turkish music is absurd, as is the MUSLIM MUSIC FESTIVAL at Brooklyn Academy of Music curated by the cowardly and obsequious liberal Joe Melillo.
To say there is a MUSLIM music is to say that all MUSLIM music has the same makams, scales, melodies, and so on, is ridiculous. Does Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sound like West African “Muslim” music? I think not.
HELLENISM.NET Do you visit Greece often? Have you done any shows in Greece?
At the Lycabettus Theatre, I did Plague Mass in 1991, produced by Nikos Valkanos, Linda Greenberg, and Jed Wheeler. Valkanos also included my version of ANOIXE (recorded previously by Sotira Bellou) in one of his Greek Diaspora recordings, whose label I do not have with me.
Also the Pallas Theatre, twice. In 1992 and 2007.
Defixiones at the Athens Opera in 1996.
In Thessaloniki twice, and once in Halkidiki.
HELLENISM.NET What’s your relationship with your family? What was like growing up in the Galas household?
Extremely intense. A great deal of love and creativity.
HELLENISM.NET Who – or what – would you say has had the biggest influence on deciding to become a singer/songwriter? Were your parents supportive of your decision? (I read somewhere that your father discouraged you from singing – but encouraged you to play music).
My mother, who believes in me completely, although the artistic and temperament comes from my father, who is a phenomenal musician. He discouraged my singing possibly from his memories of the way singers were treated by fellow musicians and because many of them had no knowledge of music, other than microphone technique.
My mother, however, is extremely powerful and a fighter, a true feminist and believes I can do anything and has insisted upon it.
HELLENISM.NET Do you feel that your Greek heritage has shaped your character and influenced your music?
Utterly, absolutely, incontrovertibly. To be a completely unknown minority group in America, unquestionably the greatest and most prolific (did I say profligate?) creative culture that ever existed, but unknown in this country, except on dinner mats, is a blessing that will find me fighting to the gruesome finish with the gratuitous xenoi-loving Onassis Foundation, who would not even make an appt. to see me, but heralds ancient female warriors and Germans taking pictures of octopodi fisherman, to keep up their financial relationships with more important persons – tourist organizations who have sold our culture as a pastiche of ruins. Pastitsio is the worst food the Greeks ever thought of.
Kiki Dimoula, who is that? A living phenomenon, the most prolific and esteemed poet of Greece – who is that? And Sofia Leonardou, do Greek here know that she co-wrote the script to REMBETIKO? A visionary.
HELLENISM.NET Why did you choose to concentrate so heavily on “dark” music?
It is considered dark by those who do not understand a death-obsessed culture. Or perhaps the Mikrasian and Maniate sides conspired. But my father survived during the Depression, has a horrific past with great suffering in his family, here and in Turkey, and I seem to have inherited that darkness, that constant skepticism, “skeptiko,” I think, which is knowledge about what is to come, where we shall remain for longer than we have been present here. The Great Fear.
HELLENISM.NET Which artists do you like to listen to?
Kazantzanidis, Xyrsanthos, Vitale, Avvelopolous, Bougas (yes Bougas!, who takes me out of my sadness and when I am not sad, I laugh loudly, the Greek laugh, that sarcastic laugh that invites the Devil for tea– because we have seen worse than he has to offer), singers from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tunisia, Anatolia (known as “Turkey” by the victims of Turkish propaganda), who are better recorded and have better distribution than our Pontic singers, who are masters of the Amanethes, past and present. I am concentrated on this singing, which, after all, is the last cry of the soldier on the battlefield as he is dying. “Mana. Mana.”
HELLENISM.NET I have to admit that (being a huge Led Zeppelin fan) I listened to your work for the first time when you collaborated with John Paul Jones in “Sporting Life” (which was an amazing album). I know that you also toured with him that year to promote the album. How was working with him, and would you consider working with John Paul Jones again in the future?
Possibly. We both have so many different things we want to do in our lives that, although it is possible, life is not that long. He was a big fan of my Smyrnaic signing and worked with it. I composed the melodies and chord changes to most of our work together and he composed the bass lines and worked with the drummer, Pete Thomas. Of course, I wrote Hex during this time, in Greek, which is very entertaining. It concerns my desire to kill a German lover but my disinterest in sitting in a German prison afterward for years. And the decision to wait until he becomes old loses his teeth his hair and his virility. This happily occurred and I was quite pleased. And it happened in only four years!!! He now lives in Shanghai!
HELLENISM.NET You have a very devoted following but your music is mostly not understood by most people. How do you feel about this? Would you ever consider “commercializing” your sound so that you’ll get your message out to more people?
No. Life is too short. I once thought it was a question of legacy, but it is not. It is a question of boredom. I cannot create anything that bores me. I have had endless offers to collaborate with famous musicians whose work is dull, and when the time comes I always have to say “no,’ which has made me very unpopular amongst other musicians. It is only because I suddenly find no inspiration to even get started and I stop as if at a red light that says, “No, you don’t cross here.”
HELLENISM.NET I’m a huge blues fan and your renditions of old blues classics are amazing. However, I found even more amazing your renditions of some old “Rembetika” songs, like “Kegome, kegome”. What made you choose to play this specific song, and would you ever consider making a full Greek album?
I have indeed planned on doing a Greek album and will do so soon, probably under my own label in the US, Mute in the UK, and worldwide under my own distribution. Perhaps the title will be KLEOPATRA IS WAS AND WILL ALWAYS BE GREEK. It will focus on much of my Amanethes singing as well as other works.
HELLENISM.NET You’re only one of a handful of singers that has the guts to sing about genocide. Genocide is obviously an uncomfortable and not “politically correct” subject to discuss or sing about. How do people react to these songs?
In general, they have no idea what I am talking about. The Greeks do, the Armenians do the Mexicans do, the South Americans so, but most Americans are lost. They still celebrate Thanksgiving, so how can we expect them to understand what WE are talking about.
HELLENISM.NET Was writing about genocide a personal experience because of your father’s background and experiences? Did he ever talk to you about life in Asia Minor?
Yes. Every day since I was 12 years old or younger and for many hours. Like a person who has survived or heard warnings of horrific trauma and was told to remain invisible regardless of the cost. This has clashed with my mother, who, as a Maniatissa, was told to FIGHT regardless of the cost and has, each time endangering her health greatly.
HELLENISM.NET You were one of the first artists to sing and talk about HIV/Aids (since the early ’80s). At the time all moralistic and homophobic societies (Eastern and Western) were seeing Aids as the disease sent by “God” to punish the homosexuals. After all these years do you think that anything has changed?
Yes, although let’s discuss the Greeks RIGHT NOW. How long are Greeks going to continue this RIDICULOUS sham of homophobia when homosexuality was part and parcel of our own culture, not to mention our military culture? I always enjoy baiting a Greek homophobic journalist with this when they begin to discuss our great innovations, whilst smiling agreeably, and then say roundly, “and let’s not forgot our most stunning innovation,” at which point the tape recorder is shut off.
HELLENISM.NET: Diamanda, it was a great honour to have the chance to ask you all these questions. We wish you every success in the future. Yiasou!
You can visit Diamanda’s website here: Diamanda Galas’ Official Website