Ancestress

Album: Fossora (2022)
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • "Ancestress" is Björk's epitaph for her late mother, Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir. A renowned hippy and environmental activist, Hauksdóttir moved to a commune when Björk was a baby. After suffering a heart attack in 2011, she had a pacemaker fitted, then spent her last two years in a hospital hooked up to a machine that helped her breathe. Bjork's "ancestress" died in 2018, aged 72.
  • Bjork wrote pages and pages of lyrics just after her mother's funeral before editing them down. She recounts her life in chronological order while pondering the ritualistic aspects of grief. The Icelandic artist starts with childhood memories of her mother singing lullabies, before recalling her heart attack, which left her in a coma for a week. As the song progresses, Bjork reflects on some of her mom's characteristics she shares and the ordeal of her final parting.
  • After writing "Ancestress," Bjork realized she'd been inspired by an old Icelandic song called "Grafskrift," which she described as "a very direct and patriarchal account of someone's life." Bjork had adopted a more feminine approach – "her biological and emotional story, not her professions, partners or dates of birth and death."
  • Bjork hasn't attended funerals, even for family members, for a long time because they make her cross. Seeing a priest give a eulogy for a deceased person they've never met rubs her the wrong way. "It's like having an MC rapping raps that he didn't write," she told Pitchfork. This song, Bjork added, is what she would have said if she'd been the priest at her mother's funeral.
  • Björk's son Sindri Eldon sang on the chorus and also took part in the vocal arrangement alongside his mother. Sindri was very close to his grandmother.

    Bjork's daughter, model/musician/actor Ísadóra Bjarkardóttir Barney, lends vocals to another Fossora track, "Her Mother's House."

    "I actually enjoyed that and it felt odd not to include them on the album somehow," Björk told NME.

    Bjork had spent a time with her children over lockdown. "I didn't think about it then, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that they're both grown-ups now," she said. "That felt important so I could ask them and they could have a chance to say no based on a mature decision. Now they're equal to me."
  • Bjork recorded "Ancestress" for her Fossora album. At 7:17, it's the longest track on the record. Bjork also recorded a second tribute to her mother, "Sorrowful Soil," for Fossora.
  • Soraya Nayyar contributed percussion. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra timpanist features throughout Fossora.

    Ragnheiður Ingunn Jóhannsdóttir conducted the string section. Bjork entrusted the young Icelander with the conducting responsibilities while she was a student at The Royal College of Music, Stockholm.
  • Another reason Bjork avoids funerals is she feels such rituals should be in the fresh air. "How can one set off the spirit in such a claustrophobic environment as a church?" she questioned. "When the soul sets off, it needs to be outside so there is room for how enormous it becomes when it merges with the elements."

    Consequently, Bjork asked director Andrew Thomas Huang to help her film the song's music video outside, in a valley where her mother often picked herbs. We see Björk, in a flowing red dress, leading a tribal procession of musicians celebrating her mom's life.

Comments

Be the first to comment...

Editor's Picks

Def Leppard Quiz

Def Leppard QuizMusic Quiz

Can you name Def Leppard's only #1 hit in America? Get rocked with this adrenalized quiz.

Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al YankovicFact or Fiction

Did Al play on a Beach Boys record? Did he have beef with George Lucas and Coolio? See if you can spot weird but true stories.

Boy Bands

Boy BandsFact or Fiction

From NKOTB to 1D, how well do you know your boy bands?

Rock Stars of Horror

Rock Stars of HorrorMusic Quiz

Rock Stars - especially those in the metal realm - are often enlisted for horror movies. See if you know can match the rocker to the role.

Crystal Waters

Crystal WatersSongwriter Interviews

Waters tells the "Gypsy Woman" story, shares some of her songwriting insights, and explains how Dennis Rodman ended up on one of her songs.

John Doe of X

John Doe of XSongwriter Interviews

With his X-wife Exene, John fronts the band X and writes their songs.