It has been variously said that everybody dies twice, first when we have breathed our last breath, and second when our name is spoken for the very last time. The Malagasy people of Madagascar take this philosophy a step further, much further, with a centuries-old funerary tradition called Famadihana, otherwise known as “the turning of the bones”.
The ceremony entails the bringing forth of the bodies of the deceased from family crypts and rewrapping the corpses in fresh cloth bearing freshly rewritten names so as to always be remembered (and perhaps avoid mistaken identity). The corpses are then held high above their heads while dancing in celebration of their previous lives, before being returned to their tombs. The ritual is then repeated every seven years until the body has completely decomposed in the belief that only then will the spirit be released and allowed to join the ancestral afterlife.
“It’s been another seven years; it’s showing ’round the eyes.
Another seven years entombed in lethargy and lies.
But let’s dig out our old clothes and prepare for celebration.
I am The Son of Sleep, all I need’s an invitation.”
Not entirely dissimilarly, band Arab Strap would begin life in 1995, die in 2006 and be briefly “brought out and danced around” in 2011 and 2016, before finally declaring themselves as “back from the grave and ready to rave” in 2020. This latest resurrection would culminate in a sea change of sound in the release of album As Days Get Dark, from which “The Turning of Our Bones” would ultimately open.
An interweaving of rebirth and sexual innuendos permeates the track, metaphorically bouncing from one to the other and back, while being perhaps subconsciously self-referential. Bandmates Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton would more colorfully state, “‘The Turning of Our Bones’ is an incantation, a voodoo spell to raise the dead, inspired by the Famadihana ritual… in which they dance with the corpses of loved ones; it’s all about resurrection and shagging.”
“Let’s not be bashful, don’t be oblique.
The flesh is willing but the spirit is weak.”
The song, while a tale of the unsettled, sinisterly lumbers along to a steadily ticking heartbeat keeping time to vocal intonations, and a peppering of properly-evoked minor-instrumental flourishes. Its accompanying video appears as a dizzying conglomeration of B movie horror-flick snippets portraying varying stages of violence and dancing, with a generous side-helping of gruesome gore. Apparently, these long-forgotten films too have been remembered to be celebrated once more.
“The second life is calling – feel its pull, feel its tow!
So let’s live now before we’re back below.”
Beautiful HUMAN BONE ART cover by Francois Robert