Mudcat Café message #1650531 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #88125   Message #1650531
Posted By: Azizi
17-Jan-06 - 08:01 PM
Thread Name: Iko Iko
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
There are a number of very interesting online resources on the subject of Mardi Gras Indians. Many of these websites include photographs of the {African American} Mardi Gras Indians with their colorful feathered and beaded suits.

One website that I recently found is Mardi Gras Influence on New Orleans Music . This article is copyrighted 2002 by Thomas L Morgan. Adhering to fair use practices, here's a few excerpts from that article:

"... Mardi Gras Indians have been a part of New Orleans' music and culture for more than 100 years according to some sources and much longer according to others. In many ways what makes Mardi Gras Indians unique is out of sight from most people. Even today there are limited interactions between the Indians and mainstream New Orleans culture. There may be weekly practices at neighborhood watering holes in the fall and winter leading up to Mardi Gras. Even on Mardi Gras Day the unveiling of the year's suit and other activities are limited to the local neighborhoods. Then there are mass appearances on the night of Saint Joseph's Day and Super Sundays and maybe even Jazz and Heritage Festival appearances where the Indians are probably seen by more people but at the same time are completely out of their element"...

There are some specific examples in the 20th Century where the titles of the Indian songs inspired New Orleans music and later on more clear examples where their music and lyrics were obvious inspirations. The Creole patois found in the lyrics is rooted in oral tradition and is accompanied by percussion instruments. Most songs are chanted and make liberal use of the call and response tradition. The main song sung normally at the beginning and at the ending of Indian gatherings is "Indian Red," also known as the "Indian prayer." Other titles include "Shallow Water," "Handa Wanda," "Two-Way-Pocky-Way," as well as song reworked from their traditional roots such as "Shoo Fly" and "Little Liza Jane." New songs are added occasionally and older ones reworked to meet the situation.

…The first known song to make use of an Indian phrase was Louis Dumaine's 1927 instrumental "To-Wa-Bac-A-Wa." Sadly this version's only resemblance to Indian music is in the title...The song that became known as Two Way Pock Y Way started out with specific dance steps accompaning the beat and lyrics according to former Big Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas, Allison "Tootie" Montana…

The text from Allan Lomax's book MISTER JELLY ROLL reveals the Creole spelling as "T'ouwais, bas q'ouwais" and response "Ou tendais," though there have been other representations. One possible translation of the phrase is "I'll kill (tuez) you if you don't get out the way, " with the response "Entendez," or "I hear ya!"...

Certainly the first popular song published that made liberal use of the Mardi Gras Indian chants was Sugar Boy Crawford's November 1953 Checker recording "Jock-A-Mo." According to a recent interview with Crawford, the original title was "Chockamo," though through a misinterpretation of what Crawford was singing, it ended up being titled "Jock-A-Mo." Crawford says, "It came from two Indian chants that I put music to." "Iko Iko" was a victory chant the Indians would shout. "Jock-A-Mo" was a chant called when the Indians went into battle." Crawford, who grew up in the 1300 block of LaSalle Street, was well acquainted with the many Indian tribes in his area but did not mask as an Indian. To the casual listener not knowledgable about the Indians, a reference to "having some fun on a Mardi Gras Day," sets the stage for the song. The song begins as a confrontation between Mardi Gras Indians might, a face-to-face meeting of Spyboys with one threatening the other by challenging that "I'm going to set your flag on fiyo (fire). The music is reminiscent of an Indian second line but for the most part is typical of the rhythm and blues songs recorded in the Crescent City at that time. The song came out for the 1954 Mardi Gras and according to Crawford "Nobody paid attention to the song..for over ten years." Certainly as it reemerged as "Iko Iko" by the Dixie Cups, it garnered a much bigger impact…

The Dixie Cup's "Iko Iko" was released on the Red Bird label in 1965 and climbed to #20 on Billboard's charting of R& B songs, in the process becoming the first Indian inspired song to escape New Orleans and make a mainstream appearance. This version is basically the same song that Sugar Boy Crawford recorded though some things are changed."


IMO, this entire article is a must read for those persons interested in Mardi Gras Indian traditions.