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Iko Iko

"Iko Iko"
Single by The Dixie Cups
from the album Chapel of Love
A-side "Iko Iko"
B-side "Gee Baby Gee" or "I'm Gonna Get You Yet"
Released March 1965
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded 1964
Genre Pop
Length 2:05
Label Red Bird
Writer(s) James Crawford, Barbara Hawkins, Rosa Hawkins and Joan Johnson
Producer(s) Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry
The Dixie Cups singles chronology
"Little Bell"
"Iko Iko"
"Gee The Moon is Shining Bright"

"Iko Iko" () is a much-covered New Orleans song that tells of a parade collision between two "tribes" of Mardi Gras Indians and the traditional confrontation. The song, under the original title "Jock-A-Mo", was written and released as a single in 1953 by Sugar Boy and his Cane Cutters that failed to make the charts. The song first became popular in 1965 by the female pop group The Dixie Cups, who scored an international hit with "Iko Iko". In 1967 as part of a lawsuit settlement between "Sugar Boy" James Crawford and the Dixie Cups, the trio were given part songwriting credit to the song. The most successful charting version in the UK was recorded by Scottish singer Natasha England who took her 1982 version into the top 10. "Iko Iko" became an international hit again twice, the first being the Belle Stars in the 1980s and again with Captain Jack in 2001.


  • James "Sugar Boy" Crawford version 1
    • Background 1.1
    • "Sugar Boy" Crawford's story 1.2
  • The Dixie Cups version 2
    • Background 2.1
    • Legal battles 2.2
    • Chart performance 2.3
  • Dr. John version 3
    • Background 3.1
    • Chart performance 3.2
  • Natasha version 4
    • Background 4.1
    • Chart performance 4.2
  • The Belle Stars version 5
    • Background 5.1
    • Chart performance 5.2
  • Captain Jack version 6
    • Background 6.1
    • Chart performance 6.2
  • Other versions 7
  • Linguistic origins 8
  • Pop culture usage 9
    • Films 9.1
    • Television 9.2
    • Other 9.3
  • References 10
  • External links 11

James "Sugar Boy" Crawford version


The song was originally recorded by and released as a single in November 1953 by James Crawford as "Sugar Boy and his Cane Cutters", on Checker Records (Checker 787). The single features Dave Lastie on tenor saxophone.[1] Crawford's version of the song did not make the charts. The story tells of a "spy boy" (i.e. a lookout for one band of Indians) encountering the "flag boy" or guidon carrier for another "tribe". He threatens to "set the flag on fire". Crawford set phrases chanted 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 Records and Checker Records president Leonard Chess, who misspelled it as "Jock-a-mo" for the record's release.[2]

"Sugar Boy" Crawford's story

James "Sugar Boy" Crawford, gave a 2002 interview with OffBeat Magazine discussing the song's meaning:[2]

Interviewer: How did you construct 'Jock-A-Mo?' Crawford: It came from two Indian chants that I put music to. “Iko Iko” was like a victory chant that the Indians would shout. “Jock-A-Mo” was a chant that was called when the Indians went into battle. I just put them together and made a song out of them. Really it was just like "Lawdy Miss Clawdy". That was a phrase everybody in New Orleans used. Lloyd Price just added music to it and it became a hit. I was just trying to write a catchy song.... Interviewer: Listeners wonder what 'Jock-A-Mo' means. Some music scholars say it translates in Mardi Gras Indian lingo as 'Kiss my ass,' and I’ve read where some think 'Jock-A-Mo' was a court jester. What does it mean? Crawford: I really don't know. (laughs)

The Dixie Cups version


The Dixie Cups version was the result of an unplanned jam in a New York City recording studio where they began an impromptu version of "Iko Iko", accompanying themselves with drumsticks on an aluminum chair, a studio ashtray and a Coke bottle.[3] After their producers cleaned up the track and added the backup vocals, bass and drums to the song, the single was then released in March 1965.[4] The Dixie Cups scored an international hit single with "Iko Iko" in May 1965 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart where their version peaked at number 20 and spent 10 weeks on the Top 100.[5] The song also charted at number 23 on the UK Singles Chart and peaked at number 20 on the R&B Chart.[6] In Canada "Iko Iko" reached number 26 on the RPM Chart.[7] It was the third single taken from their debut studio album Chapel of Love issued on Red Bird Records in August 1964.[8]

The Dixie Cups had learned "Iko, Iko" from hearing the Hawkins sisters' grandmother sing it,[3] but they knew little about the origin of the song and so the original authorship credit went to the members, Barbara Ann Hawkins, her sister Rosa Lee Hawkins, and their cousin Joan Marie Johnson.

The Dixie Cups' version was later included on the soundtrack to the 1987 film The Big Easy. This same version was also used on the soundtrack of the 2005 movie The Skeleton Key. In 2009, a version based on The Dixie Cups' was used in an ad for Lipton Rainforest Alliance Ice Tea.

Legal battles

After the Dixie Cups version of "Iko Iko" was a hit in 1965, they and their record label, Red Bird Records, were sued by James Crawford, who claimed that "Iko Iko" was the same as his composition "Jock-a-mo".[9] Although The Dixie Cups denied that the two compositions were similar, the lawsuit resulted in a settlement in 1967 with Crawford making no claim to authorship or ownership of "Iko Iko",[10] but being credited 25% for public performances, such as on radio, of "Iko Iko" in the United States. Even though a back-to-back listening of the two recordings clearly demonstrates that "Iko Iko" was practically the same song as Crawford's "Jock-a-mo", Crawford's rationale for the settlement was motivated by years of legal battles with no royalties. In the end, he stated, "I don’t even know if I really am getting my just dues. I just figure 50 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing."[2]

In the 1990s, the Dixie Cups became aware that another group of people were claiming authorship of "Iko Iko". Their ex-manager Joe Jones and his family filed a copyright registration in 1991, alleging that they wrote the song in 1963.[11] Joe Jones successfully licensed "Iko Iko" outside of North America. The Dixie Cups filed a lawsuit against Joe Jones. The trial took place in New Orleans and the Dixie Cups were represented by well-known music attorney Oren Warshavsky before Senior Federal Judge Peter Beer.[12]

The jury returned a unanimous verdict on March 6, 2002, affirming that the Dixie Cups were the only writers of "Iko Iko" and granting them more money than they were seeking.[12] The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the jury verdict and sanctioned Joe Jones.[13]

Chart performance

Chart (1965) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 20
UK Singles Chart 23
U.S. R&B Chart 20
Canada RPM 26

Dr. John version

"Iko Iko"
Single by Dr. John
from the album Dr. John's Gumbo
B-side “Huey Smith Medley”
Released March 1972
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded 1972
Genre Rock
Length 3:10
Label Atco
Writer(s) Barbara Hawkins, Rosa Hawkins, Joan Johnson, James Crawford
Producer(s) Jerry Wexler, Harold Battiste
Dr. John singles chronology
"Wash, Mama, Wash"
"Iko Iko"
"Right Place Wrong Time"


New Orleans singer and pianist Dr. John covered "Iko Iko" in 1972 for his fifth studio album Dr. John's Gumbo. Released as a single in March 1972 on Atco Records, his version of the song charted at number 71 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was produced by Jerry Wexler and Harold Battiste. The following is the "Iko Iko" story, as told by Dr. John in the liner notes to his 1972 album, Dr. John's Gumbo, in which he covers New Orleans R&B classics:

The song was written and recorded back in the early 1950s by a New Orleans singer named James Crawford who worked under the name of Sugar Boy & the Cane Cutters. It was recorded in the 1960s by the Dixie Cups for Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller's Red Bird Records, but the format we're following here is Sugar Boy's original. Also in the group were Professor Longhair on piano, Jake Myles, Big Boy Myles, Irv Bannister on guitar, and Eugene 'Bones' Jones on drums. The group was also known as the Chipaka Shaweez. The song was originally called 'Jockamo,' and it has a lot of Creole patois in it. Jockamo means 'jester' in the old myth. It is Mardi Gras music, and the Shaweez was one of many Mardi Gras groups who dressed up in far out Indian costumes and came on as Indian tribes. The tribes used to hang out on Claiborne Avenue and used to get juiced up there getting ready to perform and 'second line' in their own special style during Mardi Gras. That's dead and gone because there's a freeway where those grounds used to be. The tribes were like social clubs who lived all year for Mardi Gras, getting their costumes together. Many of them were musicians, gamblers, hustlers and pimps.

The song was performed by Dr. John during halftime of the 2008 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans and again in 2014.

Chart performance

Chart (1972) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 71

Natasha version


The most successful charting version in the UK was recorded by Scottish singer Natasha England, credited simply as Natasha, whose version reached number 10 on the UK singles chart in 1982.[14] The song also charted highly in Ireland and New Zealand. The single was produced by Tom Newman who had produced the 1973 album Tubular Bells.[15] Natasha's version enjoyed a resurgence in 2014 when it was included on the soundtrack of the best-grossing Italian film of 2014, Un Boss In Salotto.[16]

Chart performance

Chart (1982) Peak
UK Singles Chart 10

The Belle Stars version

"Iko Iko"
Single by The Belle Stars
from the album The Belle Stars/Rain Man Soundtrack
B-side "The Reason" (UK)
”Las Vegas” by Hans Zimmer (U.S.)
Released 1982 (UK)
1989 (U.S.)
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded 1982
Genre Pop
Length 2:49
Label Stiff (UK)
Capitol (U.S.)
Writer(s) Barbara Hawkins, Rosa Hawkins, Joan Johnson
Producer(s) Brian Tench
The Belle Stars singles chronology
"Another Latin Love Song"
"Iko Iko"
The Clapping Song"


In 1989, the British girl group the Belle Stars had a US chart hit with their cover of "Iko Iko" which reached number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in March, after it was included on the soundtrack of the film Rain Man, starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman.[17] The single was issued on Capitol Records. Their song is in the opening scene of the 1988 film.

It was originally released several years earlier on Stiff Records in 1982 as a single in the UK where it peaked at a modest number 35 on the UK Singles Chart in June 1982.[18] The track was produced by Brian Tench and was also featured on the band's eponymous debut album, The Belle Stars which reached number 15 on the UK Albums Chart.[18]

The Belle Stars version was later included in the 1997 film Knockin' on Heaven's Door[19] and The Hangover in 2009. The Belle Stars' version of "Iko Iko" is used in a trailer for 20th Century Fox Family Features.

Chart performance

Chart (1982/89) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 14
UK Singles Chart 35

Captain Jack version

"Iko Iko"
Single by Captain Jack
from the album Top Secret
Released 2001
Format CD single
Recorded 2001
Genre Eurodance
Length 3:13
Label E-Park Records
Writer(s) Barbara Hawkins, Rosa Hawkins, Joan Johnson, James Crawford
Producer(s) Udo Niebergall and Eric Sneo
Captain Jack singles chronology
"Only You"
"Iko Iko"
"Say Captain Say Wot"


The German Eurodance act Captain Jack recorded a cover version of "Iko Iko" for their fourth studio album, Top Secret in 2001. It was released on E-Park Records. The single was produced by Udo Niebergall and Eric Sneo. Captain Jack's version was a hit in several countries, reaching number 22 in Germany, number 62 in Switzerland and peaking at number 16 in Austria.[20]

Chart performance

Chart (2001) Peak
German Singles 22
Swiss Singles 62
Austrian Singles 16

Other versions

Linguistic origins

Linguists and historians have proposed a variety of origins for the seemingly nonsensical chorus, suggesting that the words may come from a melange of cultures.

According to linguist Geoffrey D. Kimball, the lyrics of the song are derived in part from Mobilian Jargon, an extinct Native American trade language consisting mostly of Choctaw and Chickasaw words and once used by Southeastern Indians, African Americans, and European settlers and their descendants in the Gulf Coast Region.[24] In Mobilian Jargon, čokəma fehna (interpreted as "jockomo feeno") was a commonly used phrase, meaning "very good".

A translation of Louisiana Creole French interprets the words of the entire chorus as;

Ena! Ena!
Akout, akout, an déyè
Chaque amour fi nou wa na né
Chaque amour fi na né

In English, this equates to:

Hey now! Hey now!
Listen, listen at the back
All our love made our king be born
All our love made it happen.

Another possible translation interprets the third and fourth lines as:[25]

Chokma finha an dan déyè
Chokma finha ane.

From Chickasaw words "chokma" ("it's good") and "finha" ("very"), the Creole "an dan déyè" from the French Creole "an dans déyè" ("at the back"), and the Creole "ane" from the French "année" ("year").

In English, this equates to:

It's very good at the rear
It's (a) very good year.

In a 2009 Offbeat article, however, the Ghanaian social linguist Dr. Evershed Amuzu said the chorus was "definitely West African", reflecting West African tonal patterns. The article also notes that the phrase ayeko—often doubled as ayeko, ayeko—is a popular chant meaning "well done, or congratulations" among the Akan and Ewe people in modern-day Togo, Ghana, and Benin.[26] Both groups were heavily traded during the slave trade, often to Haiti, which served as a way station for Louisiana. Ewes in particular are credited with bringing West African cultural influences like West African Vodun rites from West Africa to Haiti and on to New Orleans.

Musicologist Ned Sublette has backed the idea that the chorus might have roots in Haitian slave culture, considering that the rhythms of Mardi Gras Indians are nearly indistinguishable from the Haitian Kata rhythm. Yaquimo, he has also noted, was a common name among Taino people, who inhabited Haiti in the early years of the slave trade.[26] "Jakamo Fi Na Ye" is also, whether coincidentally or not, the phrase "The black cat is here" in Bambara, a West African Mandingo language.

In a 1991 lecture to the New Orleans Social Science History Association, Dr. Sybil Kein proposed the following translation from Yoruba and Creole:

Code language!
God is watching
Jacouman causes it; we will be emancipated
Jacouman urges it; we will wait.[27]

Voodoo practitioners would recognize many aspects of the song as being about spirit possession. The practitioner, the horse, waves a flag representing a certain god to literally flag down that god into himself or herself. Setting a flag on fire is a way of cursing someone. The song also mentions a man dressed in green who either has a change in personality or is in some way not what he seems to be. That would be recognized in Voodoo as a person being possessed by a spirit from the peaceful Rada realm who has a preference for green clothes and has love magic or fertility as their tell-tale characteristics. The man in the song who is dressed in red, and who is being sent after someone to kill them, would likely be a person possessed by a spirit from the vengeful Petwo realm who has a preference for red clothing and who has revenge or some other destructive quality among their characteristics.[28] The relationship of the song to voodoo practices is celebrated in the movie The Skeleton Key, whose plot revolves around the practice of Hoodoo (folk magic).

Pop culture usage



  • A modified version was created for a "Nickelodeon Nation" campaign.[30]
  • South African artist Kurt Darren created his own version of the song, entitled "Aiko Aiko".
  • In 1989, Mowaya covered this song in Season 1 of The All-New Mickey Mouse Club (now MMC).
  • Actress Kim Dickens' character Janette sings it while wandering the streets during Mardi Gras in episode 8, season 1 of the HBO series Treme. It also features in episode 4, season 3 of the series.
  • It was used as an opening song in Miss USA 2014 which was held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


  • Abita Brewing Company produces a beer called Jockamo IPA.[31]
  • Advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi (Australia) used the track as backing for a Cadbury Chocolates Australia 2014 ad campaign[32]
  • The protagonist of Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods recognizes the song as sung by the Dixie Cups as "an old children's song" while in a dive bar with the god Odin.


  1. ^ "Who is the tenor sax player on James "Sugarboy" Crawford's 1953 recording "Jock-o-Mo" (the original of "Iko Iko")? - Quora". 
  2. ^ a b c "BackTalk with James "Sugar Boy" Crawford". 2002-02-01. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  3. ^ a b National Public Radio-Morning Edition news cast. "Interview with Barbara Ann Hawkins". 
  4. ^ Betrock, Alan (1982). Girl Groups The Story of a Sound (1st ed.). New York: Delilah Books. pgs. 90-94. ISBN 0-933328-25-7
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2009). Top Pop Singles 1955-2008 (12th ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 282.
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2008). Presents Across The Charts: The 1960s (first ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p.119.
  7. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top Pop Albums 1955-1996 (4 ed.). Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation. p. 222. ISBN 0-89820-117-9.
  9. ^ SDNY CM/ECF Version 3.1.1 - Docket Report
  10. ^ "Iko Iko. w & m Rosa Lee Hawkins, Barbara Anne Hawkins & Joan Marie Johnson". Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  11. ^ "Iko-Iko / words & music by Joe Jones, Sharon Jones, Marilyn Jones, Jessie". Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  12. ^ a b "case:00-civ-03785". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  13. ^ "United States Court of Appeals - Fifth Circuit - FILED - August 29, 2003 - Charles R. Fulbruge III - Clerk" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  14. ^ Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952-2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 546.  
  15. ^ Discogs.comNatasha, "Iko Iko",
  16. ^ Video on YouTube
  17. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (6th ed.). New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. p. 57. ISBN 0-8230-7632-6.
  18. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 53. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  19. ^ Knockin' on Heaven's Door (1997) - Soundtracks
  20. ^
  21. ^ Video on YouTube
  22. ^ Specialty Records SPCD 7002, Larry Williams CD liner notes
  23. ^ "Schtärneföifi performing their Iko Iko version at Swiss television". Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  24. ^ Drechsel, Emanuel J. 1997. Mobilian Jargon: Linguistic and Sociohistorical Aspects of a Native American Pidgin. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 249.
  25. ^ Janice A. Radway, Kevin Gaines, Barry Shank and Penny con Eschen (2009). American Studies: An Anthology. John Wiley & Sons. p. 207.  
  26. ^ a b Hinshaw, Drew (April 1, 2009). "Iko Iko: In Search of Jockomo". OffBeat. Offbeat Publications. Retrieved 22 November 2011. 
  27. ^ "Iko, Iko Traditional Mardis Gras Indian Call" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  28. ^ Murphy, Joseph. 2011. Creole Religions of the Caribbean: An Introduction from Vodou and Santeria to Obeah and Espiritismo. NY: New York City Press. 2nd ed. 116-154.
  29. ^
  30. ^ Famiglietti, Phyllis. "Nickelodeon Nation House Party". Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  31. ^ "Abita Brewing Co". Archived from the original on 2010-08-19. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  32. ^ Saatchi & Saatchi

External links

  • Origins of the song "Iko Iko" - AMG website
  • Full lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
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