Diamanda Galás Shares New Single ‘La Llorona’ Ahead of Live Album

Diamanda Galás has shared “La Llorona,” the latest tease from her forthcoming live release, Diamanda Galás in Concert. The album, which features select recordings taken from performances at Thalia Hall in Chicago, and Neptune Theatre in Seattle from 2017, is set for release on June 14 via Intravenal Sound Operations.

“La Llorona” is a tragic tale of abandonment, revenge, murder, humiliation and isolation. The influence of the amanés can be heard in Galás’s dramatic and stark interpretation of the Mexican folk song and this influence is not purely a stylistic choice, but also a logical one as the similarly emotive Spanish cante jondo tradition, brought to Spain by Moorish settlers, also evolved from Byzantine roots. Galás is of Maniati Greek and Middle-Eastern Greek/Egyptian origin, but she was born near the border of San Diego and Mexico, hearing the corridos, ranchera, and ballades daily. 

Diamanda’s “La Llorona”is the legend of a mestizo woman who has been abandoned by her Spanish lover, who deserted her for a “purebred” woman. Faced with the threat of having her children stolen by their father, she takes the children to the river and kills them to destroy her faithless lover’s bloodline. She lives on, a haunted and disdained outcast who walks each night by the river, gathering weeds and hoping to find her children again.

Diamanda Galás in Concert is not simply a live album. With nothing but a piano and the full expressive range of her extraordinary voice, Diamanda Galás strips away the comforting patina of time, tradition and stylistic convention to expose and express the raw human emotion that is the living heart of a song. Diamanda Galás in Concert explores an eclectic range of material; rembetika, soul, ranchera, country and free jazz, and her passionate eviscerations reveal their hidden kinship. Four of the songs, ‘O Prósfigas’, ‘La Llorona’, ‘Let My People Go’, and ‘Ánoixe Pétra’ are for and by the forsaken, outcast and debased; the other three are hardboiled love songs. 

The songs on Diamanda Galás in Concert are drawn from disparate sources. Crucial to her performance are song types with ancient roots, primarily the amané, a vocal improvisation of Anatolian Greek origin. Amanés can be defined as a last prayer to the mother by a dying soldier, with the word amané itself possibly deriving from the Greek word mana, mother. Echoes of amanés can be heard in the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, but in origin it is a primal lament, expressing grief and loss. The origins of the amané are archaic; its spirit is urgent and timeless.

Diamanda Galás in Concert is bookended by a pair of songs of Greek origin and its opening track ‘O Prósfigas’ (The Refugee). The song was popularised in 1977 by the Greek Gypsy singer Manolis Angelopoulos, but Galás doesn’t reproduce the mood and infectious rhythms of his work, but instead lays bare the horror and loss at its centre. ‘O Prósfigas’ is not just a paean to refugees, but a memorial of the wilfully ignored Greek Genocide of 1914-23. The imagined words of a survivor near death in the burning of the port city of Smyrna or one forced by the Young Turks onto a death march into Anatolia and Syria, its protagonist seeks the solace of a child singing a final amané to him before his death.

Not an isolated atrocity, but the culmination of the then newly-forged Turkish state’s eradication of the Greek, Assyrian, Armenian, Yazidi, and Azeri peoples from Asia Minor, the burning of Smyrna and the terror that followed – is known in Greece as To Holokaftoma, from which the nom The Holocaust is derived. Holokaftoma means ‘burning of the whole’. It has haunted Galás for years. Galás addressed the Eastern Orthodox genocides on her 2003 double-album album Defixiones: Will and Testament, but the recent strangulation of Greece, drawn and quartered between the EU and Turkey has made this work a spiritual mandate. In addition, the vast majority of the Greeks must continue to live under “austere measures,” and do not receive the funds reserved for them. A timeless paradigm.

Turkey, who refuses to accept more Syrian immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, has been re-routing them for too many years to the poverty-stricken Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, and Kos, and Chios under police guard. Here they are abandoned for an indefinite amount of time, seeking aid from the islands’ unprepared, poverty-stricken, and old population, who struggle to help them, no longer being able to finance their own property.

To this day, relations between Greece and Turkey continue to be defined by the events of a century ago. Turkey’s repressive right-wing nationalist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dismantles democracy; Galás states, “Erdoğan has for years incarcerated, tortured, and executed many thousands of Turkish journalists, writers, teachers, students, government administrators for suspicion of treason. His ownership of 95% of the Turkish press has made events like ‘The Hagia Sofia Mosque’– the desecration and re-branding of the world’s most revered Eastern Orthodox church – a mask for a failing economy and loss of popularity with his people. Young students are bored by his syphilitic sloganeering and bragging about revisiting the Turkish genocides against the ‘gabur’ (infidel).” 

Galás adds, “That the word ‘gabur’ has been illegal for a long time does not trouble his reptilian brain.” And so Diamanda Galás’ lament for the dead of Smyrna is not simply a memorial but an act of necromancy that gives a voice to the forsaken outcast.

Embodying and living a song brings a desolate intensity to Galás’ performance of Ronnie Earl’s abject soul ballad, ‘A Soul That’s Been Abused’, and a wicked and chilling knowingness to Johnny Paycheck’s ‘Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone To Kill’. The imperious ‘SHE’, penned by Bobby Bradford, cornetist and trumpet player with free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman’s band, shows Galás giving free rein to her voice; her commanding and thunderous piano playing explores the dissonant boundaries of free jazz and bebop, making ‘SHE ‘an enigmatic highlight of Diamanda Galás in Concert.

In rural Greece, the moiroloyia is the woman’s lament for the dead. The moiroloyistras are customarily the gatekeepers of life in Greek culture, marginalised and avoided by men until their particular skills are needed to express the pain and loss of the community and to lay the souls of the dead to rest. The resonance with Diamanda Galás’ career are obvious and there’s no need to draw parallels with the profound and uncomfortable truths she has told about war, genocide or the AIDS epidemic; her own Maniati mother recognized it early in her singing, exclaiming, “You sing the moiroloyia!”  It is fitting then, that Galás brings the album to a close with another traditional Greek song, Ánoixe Pétra (Open, Tombstone). She characterises the song as “a Smyrnaika with amané improvizations.” 

Demonstrating once again the singer’s ability to inhabit the spirit of a song, Ánoixe Pétra is, like La Llorona, the song of a forsaken and betrayed woman. Deserted at the altar by her fiancée, the song’s protagonist wails a funeral song, beseeching the tombstone to open so she can hide herself from the townspeople who have witnessed her shame. And it is as a witness – with that word’s original meaning, ‘one who attests,’ – and not just a disinterested onlooker, that Diamanda Galás presents this electrifying and deeply moving album.


O Prósfigas

A Soul That’s Been Abused

La Llorona


Let My People Go

Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone To Kill

Ánoixe Pétra 

About Diamanda Galás

San Diego-born Galás grew up playing both classical and jazz music. She not only accompanied her Anatolian Greek father’s gospel choir and joined his New Orleans-style band, but also performed as a piano soloist with the San Diego Symphony at the age of 14. She went on to play with various groups that included heavies of the new-jazz thing, such as a circa-’74 combo in Pomona, California, that included cornetist Bobby Bradford, sax man David Murray, bassist Mark Dresser, and drummer Stanley Crouch. She made her first public performance in 1979, collaborating on an opera with Vinko Globokar and Amnesty International about the arrest torture, and assassination of a Turkish woman for treason. In 1982 she released her debut album, The Litanies of Satan, which showcased her early forays into unorthodox vocal expression and multiphonics, and which included an 18-minute performance piece titled ‘Wild Women With Steak Knives’. She has created work dealing with AIDS (including the recently re-mastered The Divine Punishment), genocide and mental disease, as well as compositions for voice and piano set to the works of exiled poets. She also collaborated with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on the 1994 album The Sporting Life. Her most recent album – one of The Wire’s & The Quietus’ Albums of the Year – Broken Gargoyles (2022), named for the WW1 soldiers facially disfigured by the war, see the artist deftly probing the weaving, warping transformation on the nervous systems of her post-traumatic soldiers and dying diseased. Galás is currently working on a series of newly remastered editions of her work via her own imprint, Intravenal Sound Operations.

Photo credit: Pere Masramon


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