The Dixie Cups performing "Iko Iko" on "The Oldies Show":

Ppsted byJohn1948FourA
March 19, 2010

"Text Analysis" is an ongoing Cocojams.com series that provides text analysis of selected playground rhymes, and other songs from oral traditions.

This Text Analysis page focuses on the song "Iko Iko". As such, it is a companion page to this Cocojams page that includes the text to several versions of "Iko Iko":

On 2/16/2010 it occurred to me that since the text analysis comments about "Iko Iko" song threatened to take over the Mardi Gras Song & Chant page, I should give those comments their own space. And here it is.

Comments & questions about this song are posted in order of their submission to this site, or according to their original posting date if they are reposted from another website. With the exception of the first post-an excerpt from this song's Wikipedia page-comments are posted in chronological order with the "oldest" comments being posted first.

Thanks to all those individuals and websites whose comments and information are posted on this page. As always, I'm very interested in feedback & input on this website and its content. Please send your comments and queries to cocojams17@yahoo.com

Azizi Powell, founder/editor, cocojams.com
Last revision: October 26. 2012


(These comments are placed in chronological order of receipt/retrival from other online sites, with the oldest comments posted first.)

IKO IKO (Comment #1)

Editor: An excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iko_Iko serves as the first "comment" about 'Iko Iko": Visit this Wikipedia page to find references cited in this article and to read the entire article.

"Iko Iko" is a much-covered New Orleans song that tells of a parade collision between two "tribes" of Mardi Gras Indians. The lyrics are derived from Indian chants and popular catchphrases. The song, under the original title "Jock-A-Mo", was written in 1953 by James "Sugar Boy" Crawford in New Orleans, but has spread so widely that to popular belief, it is commonly assumed to be a much older folk song.

The story tells of a "spy boy" or "spy dog" i.e. a lookout for one band of Indians encountering the "flag boy" or guidon carrier for another band. He threatens to set the flag on fire.

The lyrics of the song have been the subject of much conjecture for over 50 years and no conclusive evidence exists that can support a claim of an African or Native American language origin. Similarly, while the lyrics of the song are believed to be based on Louisiana Creole French language, no authoritative translation of the song's words has ever been offered till now (see below). Crawford set phrases shouted by Mardi Gras Indians to music for the song. Crawford himself states that he has no idea what the words mean, and that he originally sang the phrase "Chock-a-mo," but the title was misheard by Chess & Checkers Records President Lloyd Price, who misspelled it as "Jock-a-mo" for the record's release.[1]

"Jock-a-mo" was the original version of the song "Iko Iko" recorded by The Dixie Cups in 1965. Their version came about by accident. They were in a New York City studio for a recording session when they began an impromptu version of "Iko Iko," accompanied only by drumsticks on studio ashtrays.

Said Dixie Cup member Barbara Hawkins: "We were just clowning around with it during a session using drumsticks on ashtrays. We didn't realize that Jerry and Mike had the tapes running". Session producers Leiber and Stoller added bass and drums and released it.[2]"

end of quote

A number of YouTube videos include summary statements that present the poster's theory on the meaning of the words to "Iko Iko". Here's some information from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcwH2RGQuvE Posted by ACityOfFriends
March 29, 2009

[Regarding the references to Spy Boys and Flyboys]'

"The Mardi Gras Indians conferred titles such as Spyboy or Flagboy to men of merit within the tribe who served as look outs when the tribes paraded and battled other tribes. Thoughout most of the twentieth century the various tribes in New Orleans had great animosity towards one another and parades often turned into street brawls....

In it's original form the song tells of a battle between two rival Mardi Gras Indian gangs. Spyboys sent out to see if the way is clear for the gang to travel through hostile territory. The act of burning the rival gang's flag makes it impossible for the Flagboy to signal a warning to his tribe making a battle inevitable"
IKO IKO (Comment #2)

Editor: This comment was originally posted on this Mudcat Discussion Forum thread:
http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=23200&messages=138, Jacomo finane? What does that mean?

Mudcat Discussion Forum is a discussion board for members and guests of Mudcat Cafe. Mudcat Cafe is an international online folk & blues website. I was an active member of that site for 5 1/2 years.

I'm reposting this comment with permission on this page and on Cocojams.com's other page about Mardi Gras Indians whose link has already been given.

"...Bravo to the Dixie Cups, who learned it from tradition, for smacking the country in the eye with New Orleans' best song.

"Iko Iko" has many more verses than the Dixies used, in fact it picks up verses from everywhere, such as the "Uncle John" portmanteau song. Here are some of the verse I sing, together with a few others I haven't resolved. My main source was a great record of New Orleans piano done years ago by Dr. John, but as you'll see I've picked up a number of verses from other sources as well.

By the way, a "Jockamo" = a jester, jokester.

First is a variant of the "flag" (correct, refers to marchers' roles and competitive practices) verse:

My ma reine and your ma reine [my queen]
Sittin' by the fire *
Says my ma reine to your ma reine,
I'm gonna set your flag on fire.

A variant has "set yo' JAIL on fire" - sounds like Prisoner's Base, doesn't it.
Here's one I can't get some key words to -- help anyone?

We gone down to {? sounds like "Old a Shone"??}
Iko ...
We don't care till [?? sounds like "whole sa morn'n"??}

Se ma reine down the railroad track...
She put it in a chicken shack...

My li'l boy to your li'l girl,
Get your head on higher,
My li'l girl to your li'l boy,
We gonna get yo' chicken wire [pron. wyo']

If you don't like w'at the doctor say
Iko ...

You come on down to Becca Town
We gone talk about you messin' aroun'

[Ain't no use you say what t'do??]
Iko ...
'Cause we ain't gone do what you tell us to
Iko ...

Me big chief, me [remainder not understood] [?? ... town???]
Iko ...
Well, ben' the knee when I walk around,
Iko ...

My ma reine all dress in red,
Iko ...
Injun feather all in e head,
Iko ...

I remember this mornin' I remember it well,
Iko ...
I 'member the day when Uncle John fell,
Iko ...

[end of lyrics]

-excerpt of a post by GUEST,Bob Coltman, originally posted in
Mudcat Discussion Forum thread RE: Cajun Music, 17 Jan 06
reposted on 17 Jan 06 by Azizi Powell in http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=88125

Editor's note:
*Instead of "sittin by the fire", I've heard "sittin by the bayou".

[comment posted on 4/13/2010] - Click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wNSHPQj0W8&feature=related to find a sound file of the Dixie Cups singing "Iko Iko". The song's lyrics are shown on the screen along with a beautiful photo montage of Mardi Gras Indians. Sorry, embedding this video is not permitted. Also, note that this video link and any other YouTube video link may not remain viable.

IKO IKO (Comment #3)

Editor: At one time, in addition to its page on Mardi Gras Indian songs & chants, Cocojams.com had a page on other aspects of Mardi Gras culture . I posted this page at least six months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Louisiana and other Southern regions on August 23, 2005. I retired that page before the Cocojams website was upgraded in late December 2009.

What I am referring to as "Comment #3" was sent to cocojams.com via email from a man who indicated that he had lived in New Orleans for years and at the time of the email lived in New York city (or elsewhere in the state of New York). NOLA/NYC's comments responded to my comments on that page asking if there had been a Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 2006 and if there had been Mardi Gras Indian involvement in those celebrations that year. NOLA/NYC also shared the following information/opinion about the meaning of the "Iko Iko" song:

"There was indeed a Mardi Gras this year, with Indians, maskers and more, although somewhat smaller than prior to Katrina. But the people there are amazingly resilient and although their spirit has been tested, as you can see, it has not been broken".

"Iko Iko" is a loose collection of phrases from Mardi Gras "Indian" street chants, Afro-Caribbean patois, the African-American cultural phenomenon known as "the dozens", and jump-rope rhymes. It was first recorded by Sugar Boy Crawford, and later, more successfully, covered by the Dixie Cups among others. Dr. John also later covered the song on the album Gumbo (which by the way comes from the African word "gombo", which means okra), and that, I believe is the version which serves as the source for the lyrics you had questioned.

It's been my interpretation, given what I know about New Orleans culture--Dr. John in particular, from growing up in the South, and from talking with my fellow musician friends, that the verse in question is: "We gon' down (to) Labeaux-Lashaune." ...which I can't swear to, but the good Doctor and his fellow NOLA songwriters often refer to certain streets or districts, either officially or unofficially designated, e.g., "Dourgenois, right near Tremaine", "Meet my gang on the Melpomene", "Girt town", and "The Ponderosa" (meaning Angola prison). However Googling the French proper names "Labeaux" and "Lashaune" brought no evidence that there actually are such places. When I perform the tune though, that is how I interpret that line. I would be very interested, however, in your source for "Bollashon", as I've been unable to find that word myself.

Another feature in several New Orleans tunes is occasional references to street drugs, especially marijuana and heroin. One of the common street names for heroin is "horse". So I believe the next line, "We gon' catch a li'l ho'se-amaune" is a reference to "copping" or buying heroin, sung with a good dose of "Nawlins" accent plus a couple of nonsense syllables thrown in at the end to make the line rhyme with the previous one, much in the same way as jazz musicians in the 40s and 50s used nonsense syllables like "a-roonie" to somewhat obscure or disguise certain words or phrases to keep them from being understood by the "squares". Today's equivalent is Snoop Dogg's "That's the shizzle." So the general sense of that stanza is "We're going down to (wherever) to cop (buy heroin)." Incidentally the word "cop" as you may know comes from another French word, "carpe" which means to seize.

In another tune from Gumbo, "Junko Partner", which is another often-covered New Orleans folk song about a heroin addict (or "junkie", from another street name for heroin: "junk"), Dr. John makes yet another sly reference to heroin using the Southern black pronunciation, "heavon" (sounds similar to "heaven"): "Give me whiskey, when I feel a little frisky ... but give me heavon (sic) before I die."

On another point, you are correct: "Marraine" (pronounced ma-rane) is a Cajun-French term for "Grandmother". Similarly, "Parraine" for Grandfather, "cousin" (pronounced koo-zan) for cousin, etc. This is why when the Dixie Cups covered the song Iko Iko, they changed the lyric to "Grandma". However, in Spanish, "reina" means queen, and "mi reina" is "my queen." Conflating the French "ma", or "my" and the Spanish "reina", therefore, seems to be the origin for the cajun "Marraine". However it's not much of a stretch to assume it could also mean a consort. In the Italian slang, "goomadre" is a "code" word which on the surface would seem to mean grandmother, but whose hidden meaning is mistress, as in "I'm going to see my goomadre". See also the term "goombah" which is the masculine form of the same word, and which is a phonetic spelling of the Italian word "compare", which is similar to the Spanish "compadre", meaning old (male) friend...

The "chicken sack" line is another example of a phrase being somewhat obscured by the heavy "Nawlins" accent, which Dr. John has in spades. The actual line is: "She put it here in a chicken sack." This probably refers to something--drugs, whiskey or even a weapon--left hidden for a specific person to find "down the railroad track"--usually a deserted area away from prying eyes. The "fix yo' chicken wiyo" line elsewhere in the song is a threat to damage a person's chicken wire, which is the foundation on which many of the Mardi Gras costumes are built and is in keeping with the general theme of rivalry between the various Mardi Gras "tribes".

Googling such terms as "New Orleans", "Mardi Gras", "cajun", "patois", "culture", etc. should give you lots of good sources for further study. I would also recommend picking up some recordings by The Wild Tchoupitoulas, the Neville brothers, Clifton Chenier, The Wild Magnolias, Professor Longhair, and of course Dr. John.
Hope this proves helpful."
-NOLA/NYC; email to Cocojams on 4/3/2006 and other subsequent emails to Azizi Powell, Founder/Editor of Cocojams.com.

IKO IKO (Comment #4)

Editor: Comment #4 consist of a Cocojams.com visitor's question and my ammended response to that question.

Hi! I was wondering If the mardi grass indians chant Iko-Iko is the same as Zap mamas song Iko-Iko??? Thank you!
-Yaya Atwa ; 10/18/2006

Yaya, thanks for your question. I had to look up the Zap Mama lyrics, and haven't heard the song sung by this group.

[Two versions of those lyrics are found on Cocojams' Mardi Gras Indian Songs & Chants page http://www.cocojams.com/content/mardi-gras-indian-songs-chants]

Most sources give The Dixie Cup's version as the "original" version of that song. Actually, that version is a remake of two Mardi Gras Indian chants..

In the interest of comparison, here's a link to a recording with a montage of paintings/photograph of the Dixie Cups' version of "Iko Iko" (Sorry, videos of the Dixie Cups singing this song have been withdrawn from YouTube, and embedding this sound file has been disabled). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wNSHPQj0W8

Here's the summary that was included with this sound file by its poster, Adamfulgence
on December 10, 2009

"Iko, Iko is a Mardi Gras song in which Indian tribes, dressed in extraordinary costumes, chant this song during a mock battle between the tribes. It has been translated in many ways and leaves a lot of room for interpretation. I included the lyrics" [on the video screen].

Here's a YouTube video of Zap Mama's version of "Iko Iko".

Zap Mama Iko-Iko(Suca Mama)

Posted by annathebest94
August 10, 2008

"Soundtrack Di M:I2"


M:12 is "Mission: Impossible II", a 2000 action film and the sequel to the 1996 "Mission:Impossible" film. Click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission:_Impossible_II for more information about those movies. Zap Mama's version of "Iko Iko" is part of the soundtrack of that movie, and is also part of the movie's album.

Quoting from its Wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zap_Mama "Zap Mama is a Belgian musical group founded and led by Marie Daulne. Daulne says her mission is to be a bridge between the European and the African and bring the two cultures together with her music"...Marie Daulne, the founder and leader of Zap Mama, was born in Isiro, one of the largest cities in the north of the Orientale province of Democratic Republic of the Congo (also known as Congo-Kinshasa after its capital to distinguish it from the Republic of the Congo, or Congo-Brazzaville). [4] She is the fourth child of Cyrille Daulne, a Walloon (a French-speaking Belgian), and Bernadette Aningi, a Bantu woman from Kisangani, formerly Stanleyville, the third largest city in Congo-Kinshasa."...


The tune of Zap Mama's "Iko-Iko" (Suca Mama) are clearly based on The Dixie Cup's song "Iko Iko". Although the structure of the two songs are quite similar, there are significant textual differences between those two songs. One key difference is the phrase " suca mama" that is found in Zap Mama's version but not in The Dixie Cup version. So prevalent is this phrase that (as the embedded video shows) the title of the Zap Mama song is often given as "Suca Mama".

In my iniital response to the query sent to Cocojams. com by Yaya Atwa, I focused on that "sucu mama" phrase. I believed then and still believe now that "suca mama" (as found in Zap Mama's "Iko Iko") has its origins in the Spanish word "acuzar" meaning "sugar" .

http://www.lyricskeeper.com/zap_mama-lyrics/227758-iko_iko-lyrics.htm has the the lyrics to Zap Mama's Iko Iko song (which i posted on Cocojams' Mardi Gras Songs & Chants page). Those lyrics include the " a souca souca mama" phrase. In contrast, http://www.morgud.com/stela5/lyrics/fd4t5.asp (version of that Zap Mama song) gives that oft repeated refrain as "Azucar azucar mama". It's my position that the word "suca" in "suca mama" comes from the Spanish word "azucar"

I believe that it's relevant to note that the word "Acuzar!" was the signature call for The Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. This much loved vocalist usually wove that call into her concerts and the "Azucar!" was popularized by her fans and became a tribute to Celia Cruz and her music. In the context of that call, I believe "Azucar!" means "Sweet" (as in the music is "sweet" (meaning it is very good).
(Click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz to learn more about Celia Cruz).

I also believe that the word "sookie" in the phrase "Ah Uhh! Awww, sookie sookie now! that is found in the 1970 R&B hit song "Groove me" comes from the Spanish word "azucar", That song was recorded by a New Orleans African American named King Floyd. The expression "Ah sookie sookie" was (and I believe may still be) used by African American (and other?) men to express appreciation for women. For instance, if a man sees a woman who is "built" or who is dancing sensually, he might say "Ah sookie sookie now!

I'm aware that "Sookie" (Sukie) is a nickname for "Susan". It's possible that the phrase "a sookie sookie" could have come from that nickname. It's also possible that the nickname "Sukie" could have reinforced the sucu/sweetness meaning and usage. I don't think that the "sooey" call has any connection with the "azucar/suca mama/ah sookie sookie now" words or phrase. It's possible that the "Sukie" nickname might be related to or might have been reinforced among African Americans early on by the Ghanaian femal day name "Akosua" (female born on Sunday) but I think this is a stretch.

So does this have anything to do with Zap Mama's rendition of "Iko Iko"? I think so. It would be sweet if I was right.

IKO IKO (Comment #5)

Editor: This comment was sent in via email by a Cocojams.com visitor:

Just to comment, I noticed something in the comments I'd like to correct on the page about the Mardi Gras Indians. Marainne and Parainne (don't know the correct French spelling), which we often would say it Maran and Paran and pronounce it "Mah-ran" and "Pah-ran" means godmother and godfather, not grandmother/grandfather. One example. I just set up a savings account for my god child and it is called the "peran fund." Just letting you know!
-Craig; 12/23/2007

Craig's comments are in response to the information posted in Iko Iko, Comments #3 from NOLA/NYC: "On another point, you are correct: "Marraine" (pronounced ma-rane) is a Cajun-French term for "Grandmother". Similarly, "Parraine" for Grandfather.
Thanks for that information, Craig!

IKO IKO (Comment #6)

Editor: The following comment is from a Cocojams.com visitor and was sent in to this site via email on 9/11/2008:

"Regarding the lyrics to "Iko Iko," specifically Dr. John's 1972 recording: I'm not sure whether anyone has yet pointed out that the phrase referred to above as "Becca Town" is actually "back'o'town," literally the back of town, which in the way-back old days was anything on the lake side of Rampart Street. It most likely refers to the neighborhood now known as Tremé (truh-MAY), in which the Storyville District was situated until 1917. Faubourg Tremé, about ten blocks north-to-south and sixteen blocks east-to-west, officially became part of New Orleans in 1812; the area surrounding North Claiborne Avenue in particular is still the most active locale for Mardi Gras Indian festivities on Fat Tuesday. Also, since North Dorgenois Street runs through the western side of that neighborhood, about a mile away from Tremé Street, the phrase cited as "Dorgenois right near Tremaine" must be either "...right near Tremé" or "...right near Dumaine." Dumaine Street runs from the French Quarter to Mid-City, intersecting North Dorgenois in the Tremé neighborhood. (Interestingly, we have no problem pronouncing the street named "Dorgenois" in nearly correct French (DER-zhen-wä), but most people here still refer to the street named "Genois" (about ten blocks lakeward from Dorgenois) as "juh-NOYSE." If you ask someone for directions to "Zhen-wä" street, they're likely to tell you they've never heard of it.) An entertaining read as well as a wealth of information on the etymology of New Orleans neighborhoods and street names can be found in "Frenchmen Desire Good Children," a book written in the late 1940s by journalist/historian John Churchill Chase, who now has a street named after him in the Warehouse District. I hope some of this has been helpful. It always makes me happy to know that people from all over the world are interested in the language and culture of my home town. many thanks"
-Neil; 9/11/2008

Thanks, Neil for that interesting information! I have taken the liberty of reposting your comment on this Mudcat Discussion Forum page about the song "Iko Iko": http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=88125#1650507.

Neil, I intend to look up the book you recommended. It sounds like it will be interesting reading!

IKO IKO (Comment #7)

Editor: The following comment is an excerpt from the same Mudcat thread on the song "Iko Iko"" as comment #2 and comment #6. Because of its relevance to this subject, I'm taking the liberty to repost an except of this comment although I don't have permission to do so from its poster. I have contacted him (I'm assuming the poster is a he by the screen name) through electronic message and believe that he will have no objection to this excerpt being posted here.

As a preface to that comment let me note that Mudcat Discussion Forum has a number of discussion threads on the song "Iko Iko". This particular thread has lasted for more than 10 years (!)

I visted that website today (2/15/2010) and noticed that there was a new comment posted from someone who indicates that he knows the Lousiana Black Creole language. That poster also asserted that such knowledge is crucial to arriving at a correct translation of the words of "iko Iko.".

Here's that excerpt from a long and very interesting post written to that thread by Yanne at 10 Feb 10 - 09:03 AM :

"The song "Iko, Iko" made its debut as "Jock-o-mo" in 1953. It was written by a 19 year old black musician named James Sugar Boy Crawford who copied down the ceremonial war chants of opposing Black Indian tribes who faced each other off during the Mardi Gras festivals in New Orleans.

Since 1965 when the Dixie Cups made it into a hit, the song has been known as "Iko, Iko".

The song's words are neither impenetrable nor gibberish, as some people seem to think. They are also neither old French nor Cajun French. They are Kreyol Lwizian (Louisiana Creole). The reason the song is sung with different words by Crawford, the Dixie Cups, The Grateful Dread and others is because none of these people speak Creole. And other British and American singers are in the same boat…

The Black Indian chants, even though they have words of French origin, have everything to do with Creole French, and nothing to do with Cajun French (which though it was also 'old French', adhered to French syntax and grammar). Louisiana Creole, though similar to French, has a syntax of its own – it's basically pidgin-French, with grammar that would make a Frenchman cringe and with words that are foreshortened and spoken with flat accents in quick, rapid-fire delivery….

The chants are generally in the Call and Response fashion – in fact very much as the Dixie Cups sang the song.

The tribe and its crowd of enthusiastic followers "respond", sometimes chanting a traditional chorus of words that have no common meaning and often derived from the early Creole language. These songs, although similar, are rarely sung in the same way by all the tribes although they lay claim to the same common repertoire. The tempo may be relaxed or fast depending upon the mood of the singers, but it remains consistent throughout the chant. Competition is nurtured in a creative climate that awards prestige and respect to the person who is able to out-sew, out-dress, and out-sing another Black Indian of equal rank from another tribe

The chants are Creole in origin but are badly deformed by the Black "Indians". Sybil Kein writes: 'The chants of the Mardi Gras Black Indians have been diluted over the years by American black speech"…


Yanne then proceeds to give a translation of the entire "Iko Iko song" and while doing so shares more history about those who sung that song. The entire post is well worth the read for those who are interested in this song. Here's the link:

Jacomo finane? What does that mean?

Editor: I've been fortunate to exchange emails with the person who posted comments about "Iko Iko" on Mudcat using the name "Yanne" (See Comment #7). That poster's name is Ian T. Cully and he is a retired businessman, and an independent researcher/folklorist who lives in France. I have received Mr. Cully's permission to post the following comments that he sent me by email on and on March 20, 2010)

Email to Azizi Powell from Ian T. Cully (March 15, 2010)

"I read the posts on your site concerning the meaning of the words of the song Iko Iko. It’s a shame that all these misconceptions still exist with people saying Jocomo was a jester etc and that the song means ‘Get out of my way’ etc. They’re simply not true.

The song has been fully deciphered – took me a long time! It’s in pure Louisiana French Creole (dreadfully mispronounced) and Jocomo wasn’t a jester or even a name – it was a greeting - Chokma (which is Chocktaw and Chickasaw Native American for “It’s good”.)

The words ‘Jocomo fee no’ means Chokma Finha – Finha being Native American for the word ‘very’. They put the modifier ‘very’ after, so for ‘It’s very good’ they say ‘It’s good very’.

Iko Iko wasn’t at all ‘I go, I go’ as is reported on your site but was the Creole word ‘Akout’, which means ‘Listen’. It comes from the French ‘Ecoute’. But the Creoles pronounced it with a soft initial ‘A’ and a silent ‘T’, so it was chanted AIKOu, which Sugar Boy Crawford phonetically copied down as IKO at a New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian ritual in 1953.

The words are all explained on YouTube (type ‘Iko Iko origin and meaning’ into the search box).

Or for a complete history of the song go to Google – type in Iko Iko, and then click on Iko Iko Wikipedia

Hope this helps

-end of quote-

Email to Azizi Powell from Ian T. Cully (March 20, 2010) [in response to my question as to the exact YouTube link and as to whether he was "Yanne" who posted information about "Iko Iko" on Mudcat Cafe]

..."The YouTube link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj6-irrsnsw. For those who want a more detailed history they can access it on “Iko Iko Wikipedia” by typing term into the Google search-box.

Yes, I’m the Yanne who posted on Mudcat. Unfortunately, shortly after my post, I had to change the history when a celebrated linguist emailed me that everything was right except the ‘Jocomo fee na’ bit. He told me that Jocomo was ‘Chokma Finha’, and that therefore the Creoles had introduced an Indian greeting (Choctaw) meaning ‘It’s very good’ into their chant...

After retiring from business, I decided to do other things. One of those things was a research project into the strange chorus of Iko Iko, a song I think is terrific, but which sounded like gibberish. I have a smattering of Creole and can understand a lot of it because I live in France , speak it fluently, and Creole is pidgin French. So I started with the assumption it must have been Creole in origin because New Orleans at the end of the 19th century was a town where the whites spoke English, and the blacks secretly spoke the Creole language of their forefathers in their own communities because it was forbidden by law. So I knew the answer must be in Louisiana Creole, and that’s where I started my research.

It was the inclusion of a Native American phrase in the chant that threw me, till the celebrated linguist put me right on it. Then further research showed me that in fact the two communities, Creoles and Native Americans of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Houma tribes mingled extensively in New Orleans and even intermarried. I have photos of Native American mothers with Creole looking children. No wonder these communities mixed extensively – both were downtrodden by their masters, they were racial minorities and heavily discriminated against. You won’t believe some of the horrors that went on. A New Orleans hit song in the early 1900’s was actually entitled “All Coons look the same to me.” Incredible, isn’t it?

So because of the intermarriage some of the Creoles would have Native American grandmothers or mothers, or aunts, cousins, uncles etc. No wonder that such a common greeting as “Chokma Finha” – ‘It’s very good’ – was a phrase a Creole in a Black Indian ‘krewe’ would introduce into a chant being prepared for a Mardi Gras parade. It’s typically the kind of thing a grandmother would say to her grandson. So they mixed pure Creole with Native American in the chant. And that’s how Iko Iko was born."

-end of quote-

Here's a comment that I shared with Ian T. Cully regarding the meaning of the lyrics to "Iko Iko" :

I applaud your research (and others' research) regarding the earliest version of Iko Iko and the meaning those words had at that point in time and among that population. I believe that it's important to remember that it's the nature of folk songs to change & have multiple versions. Also, words & phrases take on additional meanings or new meanings over time. While it's important & commendable to attempt to discover, document, study, & share the earliest known version of a song, chant, or rhyme, I hope no one thinks that all all other versions of that song are wrong & that any other meaning a word might've come to have has to be mistaken.

IKO IKO (Comment #10)

In this comment, I'm presenting for readers' consideration a theory of a West African origin for the word "iko", I came across this theory today (March 20, 2010) in an online article about the meaning of the song "Iko Iko".

Here's the quote that I'm referring to:

"One additional comment on the origins/meaning of "Iko":
"Iko and un day are Creole corruptions of the Gambian call ago! [pay attention] and the expected response, which is amay! [I/we are listening]. Chuck Davis of the African- American Dance Ensemble, which is based here in Durham, uses this device ubiquitously when he acts as Griot (master storyteller/master of ceremonies). When he calls "ago!" everyone is supposed to shout "amay!"--no matter what else is going on. He likes to slip this into the middle of various narrations just to make sure folks are paying attention. He also uses it as an introductory, "calm down" sort of exercise before he starts to speak, or to quiet the crowd if it gets noisy while he's speaking."

http://www3.clearlight.com/~acsa/introjs.htm?/~acsa/songfile/IKOIKO.HTM retrieved March 20, 2010. Azizi Powell

-end of quote-

Click http://www.answers.com/topic/chuck-davis to find biographical information about Chuck Davis. Here's some excerpts from that page:
"Chuck Davis

"Danced with Babatunde Olatunji's Dance Company, Eleo Pomare's Dance Troupe, and the Bernice Johnson Dance Company. Formed his own company, the Chuck Davis Dance Company in 1967. Started DanceAfrica, a festival of dance, in 1977. Joined the faculty of the American Dance Festival in 1974. Started a second dance company, the African American Dance Ensemble, in 1983. Organized Cultural Arts Safari, an annual pilgrimage to Africa."

"North Carolina Artist Award, 1990; North Carolina Award in Fine Arts, 1992; NY Bessie Award for dance and performance; BAM Award for distinguished service to the arts; Kathryn H. Wallace Award for Artists in Community Service and a Dance for the Planet award; honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Medgar Evers College, New York; named one of the first 100 irreplaceable Dance Treasures in the United States, 2000."
-end of quote-

I include this information because Chuck Davis' contribution to African American culture is not something that should be readily brushed aside. But he may not be an etymologist.
(Of course, neither am I, but that's beside the point).

I recall "Ago" "Amay" being used in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area by some Afrocentric African Americans (though I didn't use it) as an audience attention getting strategy. It was particularly used by adults for some children's day camps or other children's programming. beginning sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s One Pittsburgh based organization that was known to use this attention getting/call to order strategy was Valarie Lawrence's "Windows On Africa" summer camps or after school program. I observed "Ago!" "Amay" being used as a call/response strategy in December 2009 at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania program that was attended by Black adults, children, and youth.

"Ago", "Amay" has probably been picked up by a number of people in Black communities throughout the USA. However, I don't remember it being used before the late 1980s or early 1990s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It certainly wasn't used in the Newark, New Jersey area in the mid to late 1960s where I lived when I was going to college. That's where I first began to learn something about African culture (from a community based organization). That origanization, (CFUN) Committee For Unified Newark, was headed by poet/playwright, activist Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). Members of that group incorporated several Swahili and Zulu words into our lexicon (like "Harambee! and "Yebo!"), A call & response strategy such as "Ago!" "Amay!" would have fit very well within the culture of this organization. But I'm sure that we didn't use it.

The word "ago" is pronounced (AH-goh) and "amay" is pronounced "AH-may". If those meanings are correctly attributed from a Gambian language (which one?) then it may be coincidental that iko (which certainly does sound like "Iko" and which also means "listen").

Could the word "iko" really have come from African people? Which Gambian language is "ago" said to come from. is it Wolof? What is the word for "listen" in the various Gambian languages? Also, I wonder if there were Gambians among those people who were enslaved in the New Orleans area?

Furthermore, if the word "ago" really does mean "listen", was that word still known to Black people in New Orleans area when the Mardi Gras Indians were chanting the precusor to the "Iko Iko" song? If yes, then couldn't the word "ago" and its meaning have been reinforced by contact with French people (the word "akout" that Ian T. Cully writes about? If so, since the word "ago"/ "akout" both mean "listen", the two words could have become even more formally entrenched as one word within Black Louisiana (Creole) culture.

And if that were the case, then the Gambian theory for "iko" that Chuck Davis promotes and the French/Creole origin for "iko" that Ian T. Cully promotes could both be right.. That is so because witin any particular population, similar origins/ meanings of a word/phrase known to a population (or introduced within a population) can reinforce each other.

It's something to think about.

-Azizi Powell
March 20, 2010

IKO IKO (Comment #11)
added on 8/22/2011

Here's a video about the meaning of the song Iko Iko that was uploaded by iancully1 (Note: This is the same person as Ian T Cully as verified by my email exchanges with him)

Uploaded by iancully1 on Mar 9, 2010

Excerpt from
From http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=Hj6-irrsnsw (the viewer comment thread of this video)

Your translation does not mean what you say it means to the people that participate in New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian culture.
-DonHarMusi (March 2011)

"According to the Mardi Gras Indians account Black Johnny wrote the song and it was called Hiko. They made up a version called Iko to honor a participant called Ike. That is what the insiders say. They made up the culture so they should know."
-DonHarMusi (March 2011)

@DonHarMusi Can you help substantiate what you say? Specifically, which Tribe or Krewe of Mardi Gras Indians? Who was Black Johnny? And when was the song conceived? 19th century? If all this can be validated, it deserves to go in the Wiki article on Iko Iko
-iancully1 (April 2011)

@DonHarMusi "They made up the culture" -- true. "so they should know" -- not true. What is true is that they have folk beliefs that are themselves part of the culture, so are "culturally authentic" legends. To what extent these legends may or may not have a factual origin is an entirely separate question that requires special methods to investigate.
-priscianusjr (April 2011)

Here is my exchange with Ian T Cully that is also posted on that same video viewer comment thread (one quote from that thread was previously given in an earlier comment on this page)

Ian,thanks for your work on Iko Iko. I think it's important to remember that it's the nature of folk songs to change & have multiple versions. Also, words & phrases take on additional meanings or new meanings over time. While it's important & commendable to attempt to discover, document, study, & share the earliest known version of a song, chant, or rhyme, I hope no one thinks that all all other versions of that song are wrong & any other meaning a word might've come to have is mistaken.
-Azizip17 (2010)

Azizi, yes, it is the nature of folk songs to have multiple versions. Perhaps there are other versions of the Iko chant out there, but we only have the one phonetically copied down by Sugar Boy Crawford. He wasn't the only one aware of it however - for instance the Dixie Cups grandmother had heard of it as well, so there may well have been other versions, but alas I fear we shall never find them now.
-iancully1 (2010)

@iancully1 I know that it's unlikely to find versions of Iko Iko known to people before or at the time that Sugar Boy Crawford recorded his version. But the words to folk songs aren't fixed, and at its heart Iko Iko is a folk song. Not only do the words of folk songs change, but the meanings of the words change. And that''s a natural process. That's what I meant by my earlier comment. Google Cocojams iko Iko for more information about this topic. I feature your comments on that page. Thanks!
-Azizip17 (2010)

The flaw here is that Iko is not a folk song (which I agree are subject to change over time). Iko is two CHANTS -'Iko Iko- and 'Jocomo fee no an dan day'- which Crawford wrote down. But they were words, not music. It was Crawford who had the idea of putting them together and writing a melody. So it wasn't originally a 'folk' song, just a 1953 pop song. However, as I said before, the CHANTS might have changed - for instance there might well have been a 'Gaito! Gaito!' but we'll never know.
-iancully1 (2010)

IKO IKO (Comment #12)

Editor: Here's information that I received from Chadwick Crawford on 2/18/2012

"Also, where you have "Becca town," you should have "Back o' Town." This refers to what was once know as Black Storyville, immortalized by Satchmo in "Back o' Town Blues."



Chadwick also noted that he thought that the line "My ma reine said to your ma reine." should read "My marraine...", "marraine" being the French for godmother

Thanks, Chadwick!

I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank all those who have shared information and opinions that contribute to a better understanding of the "Iko Iko" song.

Please send in your comments and queries about this song for possible posting on this page. The email address for Cocojams.com is cocojams17@yahoo.com .


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