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Iko Iko

posted Feb 10, 2016, 8:36 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Feb 10, 2016, 8:37 AM ]
Each year for New Orleans Mardi Gras, there are several social clubs that get dressed up in wild Native American costumes and come out as “Indian” tribes to perform and “second line” in their own special style. Iko Iko tells the story of one club’s lookout or "spy boy" encountering another tribe’s guidon carrier or "flag boy" and their confrontation.

It was first recorded under the title Jock-A-Mo in 1953 by Sugar Boy and his Cane Cutters, but failed to make the charts. It became wildly popular in 1965 when The Dixie Cups scored an international hit, calling it Iko Iko. James “Sugar Boy” Crawford sued The Dixie Cups for recording “his” song, and in 1967 a legal settlement gave partial songwriting credit to both parties. It became an international hit twice more; the Belle Stars version from the movie Rain Man and for Captain Jack in 2001. And it becomes a local Brooklyn hit when members of our Music Ministry perform it at the parish Mardi Gras celebration!

But what do the lyrics mean? Linguists and historians have proposed a variety of origins for the seemingly nonsensical chorus, suggesting that the words may come from a mélange of cultures. In the Native American language of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes that inhabited the Southeast, jockomo feeno was a common phrase meaning "very good". In Creole, an dan déyè translates to “end of the year”. In West Africa, where many of the slaves came from, ayeko, ayeko is a popular chant meaning "well done”, or “congratulations". Jockomo means “jester” in the old Creole myths, while Yaquimo was a common name among the Taino people who inhabited Haiti in the early years of the slave trade. And Jakamo Fi Na Ye means "The black cat is here" in Bambara, a West African Mandingo language.