Iko Iko To Thread - Forum Home

The Mudcat Café TM
51 messages

Iko Iko

17 Jan 06 - 07:34 PM (#1650507)
Subject: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Since posts about the song "Iko Iko" seemed to be taking over the
Cajun Music
thread, and since I wanted to post something else about that song,
I decided to go looking for a Mudcat thread with that specific name.

The Mudcat search engine yielded a number of titles that referred to this song, but no thread that was specifically named "Iko Iko".
As is the case with the Cajun Music thread, the search engine also turned up a number of threads on other subjects which contained posts about the song "Iko Iko".

The fact that there is no thread entitled "Iko Iko" means that 'Catters and guests may have difficulty finding lyrics & information on Mudcat about this immortal song and about the Mardi Gras Indian culture that birthed it.

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina & Hurricane Rita [not to mention the abysmal government recovery effort] has resulted in massive relocations of African Americans from New Orleans to points where ever. One [perhaps not so minor] consequence of this relocation is that there is likely to be significant changes to {if not the complete end of} the pre-Katrina New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian culture. For that reason alone, it seems imperative to me that information about the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian songs and cultural traditions be collected and preserved. IMO, having a Mudcat thread with the title "Iko Iko" would support such an effort.

For these reasons, I'm starting this thread.

Please join me in posting {or re-posting} memories and information about "Iko Iko", about other Mardi Gras Indian songs, chants, and traditions.



17 Jan 06 - 07:42 PM (#1650514)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Genie

Look under "Aiko, Aiko." It's here in several threads.

I know, 'cuz I started a thread with it spelled the way you spelled it, a couple years back. LOL


17 Jan 06 - 07:44 PM (#1650517)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

I started making links to other Mudcat threads about the song
"Iko Iko" and then realized that Joe Offer or one of the Joe Clones would probably list those threads below the name of this one.

But since I started, here's three of those links and the year that they were started:

hey now hey now ico ico wanna ney what song?

Jacomo finane? What does that mean?

Lyr Req: Aiku, Aiku

17 Jan 06 - 07:46 PM (#1650519)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Genie

You beat me to it, Azizi! LOL

This thread has links to several others.

17 Jan 06 - 07:47 PM (#1650522)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Thanks, Genie.

You beat me to the punch that time {which is a line from some song or the other}.

Much respect to you for starting that earlier thread, but I think that the spelling you used might mean that some folks looking for information on Iko Iko wouldn't find your thread.

Best wishes,


17 Jan 06 - 07:49 PM (#1650526)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Genie, we have to stop meeting like this.


17 Jan 06 - 08:01 PM (#1650531)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

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.

17 Jan 06 - 08:03 PM (#1650533)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Genie

Yeah, we do. LOL

I think if you wanna find all the threads on this song you have to try "creative spelling":

ico ico
aiku aiku
aiko aiko
iko iko (your spelling, which, it says in one of the threads, is the correct one!)

Then check "Jacomo," "Giacomom" etc.


17 Jan 06 - 08:09 PM (#1650535)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Here's some information about The Dixie Cups singing group:

"The Dixie Cups came from New Orleans and had one giant hit along with several other records before slipping into rock history.

The three girls who comprised the group were Barbara Ann Hawkins [born 1943], her sister Rosa Lee Hawkins [born 1944] and their cousin Joan Marie Johnson [born 1945]. All were from New Orleans. Originally known as Little Miss and the Muffets, the girls were discovered at a talent contest. New Orleans record producer/singer Joe Jones, who had a top ten hit of his own in 1960 with You Talk Too Much, liked their act and brought the girls to the Brill Building in New York.

In 1964 they began to rehearse a song that had been written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector titled Chapel Of Love. Spector produced a version of the same song by one of his groups, the Crystals, that went unissued. He also produced a version by another one of his groups, the Ronettes, which coincidentally was also comprised of two sisters and their cousin. Although it appeared to everyone involved that Chapel Of Love had "hit" written all over it, Spector was somewhat apprehensive about releasing the song. Barry and Greenwich arranged a rehearsal for the girls from New Orleans at Red Bird Records, a new label that was owned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The group was renamed the Dixie Cups, and their version of Chapel Of Love was released in 1964 on Red Bird. It became a huge international hit, a million seller, and a solid number one record in the United States. It also was a huge boost to Red Bird, which a short time later would become the home of another enormously successful girl group from New York City, the Shangri-Las. Spector later issued the Ronettes' version of Chapel Of Love on an album....

When there was a pause in one of their recording sessions, the girls began a chanting song that they had heard and learned from their mother, Barbara, called Iko Iko. It was a call-and-respond type of chant of a Mardi Gras Indian tribe, back in New Orleans. The Indian chant was first recorded in the mid-Forties.

"We were just clowning around with it during a session using drumsticks on ashtrays. We didn't realize the Jerry and Mike had the tapes running " Barbara Hawkins

Leiber and Stoller later overdubbed a bass and percussion, and released it. Again, the chant was sung with some percussion in the background, on ashtrays, and when they recorded it, it became their final top forty record, in the Spring of 1965. Iko Iko was covered by a British female band called the Belle Stars in the 80's, and when this version was used in the movie Rain Man it made a return to the top forty in 1989..."

Lyrics to The Dixie Cup's version of Iko Iko:
- drumstick solo -

My grandma and your grandma, were sittin by the fire,

My grandma told your grandma, I'm going to set your flag on fire,

chorus -

Takin bout hey now, hey now

Iko! Iko! an de'

Jackomo fe no nan e' , Jackomo fe nan e'

Look at my King all dressed in red

Iko! Iko! an de'

I bet you 5 dollars, he kill you dead!

Jackomo fe nan e'

Takin bout ..... hey now, hey now

Iko! Iko! an de'

Jackomo fe no an e' , Jackomo fe nan e'

My flagboy and your flagboy, sittin by the fire,

My flagboy told your flagboy, I'm going to set your flag on fire,

Takin bout ..... hey now, hey now

Iko! Iko! an de'

Jackomo fe no an e' , Jackomo fe nan e'

See that guy all dressed in green, Iko! Iko! an de'

He's not a man, he's a lovin machine!

Jackomo fe nan e'

Takin bout hey now, hey now

Iko! Iko! an de'

Jackomo fe no nane' , Jackomo fe nan e'

- instrumental solo -

Source: Mardi Gras music; The Dixie Cups

17 Jan 06 - 08:22 PM (#1650547)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Here's another Iko Iko version performed by Aaron Carter. This version is similar to The Dixie Cups.

My grandma and your grandma
Were sittin' by the fire.
My grandma told your grandma
"I'm gonna set your flag on fire"

Hey now! Hey now!
Iko, Iko, unday
Jockamo feeno ai nan?
Jockamo fee nan?

Look at my king all dressed in red Iko, Iko, unday.
I betcha five dollars he'll kill you dead
Jockamo fee nan?

My flag boy and your flag boy
Were sittin' by the fire.
My flag boy told your flag boy
"I'm gonna set your flag on fire"


See that guy all dressed in green ?
Iko Iko unday
He's not a man He's a lovin' machine.
Jockamo fee nan?
Chorus x 2
Fade to end


You can tell that the verse that mentions "king" isn't authentic to the Mardi Gras Indians, since those groups called their leader
"Big Chief" and not "king".

And it occurs to me that the "see that king dressed in red" and
"see that guy dressed in green" reminds me of the dressed in color verses in the spiritual "Wade In The Water"...

17 Jan 06 - 08:30 PM (#1650551)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

And check out this version from the Greatful Dead:

Iko Iko
Lyrics: Traditional
Music: Traditional

First introduced into the Dead's repertoire in 1977, and played regularly thereafter. There are all sorts of variations on the lyrics, and what's below is only a sample.

These are the lyrics from 2 September 1980 (Dick's Picks Vol 21):

Hey now (hey now)
Hey now (hey now)
Iko iko un day
Jockomo feeno ah na nay
Jockomo feena nay
[repeated twice]

My spy dog see your spy dog
Sitting by the Bayou
My spy dog see your spy dog
Gonna set your tail on fire


Indian boy going down town
Iko iko un day
You don't like what the big chief said
Said Jockamo feena nay


My grandma see your grandpa
Sitting by the Bayou
My grandma see your grandpa
Gonna set your flag on fire


My spy boy see your spy boy
Sitting by the Bayou
My spy boy see your spy boy
Gonna fix your chicken wire



Source: Greatful Dead Lyrics and Song Finder

17 Jan 06 - 08:43 PM (#1650562)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

That same Greatful Dead site has what seems to me to be highly credible explanations about the meanings of several terms and phrases used in the Iko Iko song. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised about this, but I admit that I am.

Check out these excerpts:

..."chicken wire" is what it sounds as if Jerry is singing (though on some other versions it sounds more like "chicko wiyo"). I haven't tracked this line down to any definitive "source" in other versions. Reg Johnsey came up with this explanation:
The way country people celebrated Carnivale/Mardis Gras was to make conical masks out of chicken wire and decorate them, wearing them with costumes festooned with strips of cloth. So, the references to fixing someone's chicken wire sounds like a joking threat to mess up their masks, since part of the battle was how good the costumes were."

"Joc-a-mo-fee-no-ah-nah-nay, Joc-a-mo-fee-nah-nay" is a ritual chant used by the Mardi Gras Indians which has been around for so long the words are no longer clearly distinguishable, and it has a well understood meaning of its own. Very, very loosely translated it signifies "we mean business" or "don't mess with us". Originally it would have been Cajun (a liberal mix of French and English) and literally translates to "the fool we will not play today"...

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." ...


BTW: I've frequently heard the call "ah-GOH!" and its response
"ah-MAY" {both spelled phonetically} are used with children by Afrocentric cultural groups in Pittsburgh, PA and other US cities since about the mid 1980s for the same reasons as mentioned in the comment above.

17 Jan 06 - 08:51 PM (#1650565)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Speaking of the meaning of some of the Iko Iko lyrics, I hope that I'm not committing a mortal sin, but I just really gotta repost substantial portions of GUEST,Bob Coltman's post in the Cajun thread linked above.

Subject: RE: Cajun Music
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman - PM
Date: 17 Jan 06 - 08:56 AM

"...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 to 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 caretill [?? 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 ...

Note "I remember it well" line is an echo of the one in the Bahamian "I Bid You Good Night" that was picked up by lots of us in the 60s, notably Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band.

Becca Town has huge connotations. It was the "inside name" for the downclass and dive district, overlapping Storyville to some extent, but perhaps excluding the kinds of nightclubs whites frequented. Becca Town belonged to the indigenous culture, the underclass, and when Mr. Man hove into view it was the signal for a variety of reactions from self-protective to hostile..."


Much respect and thanks, Bob for hippin me to the meaning of
"ma reine" and "Becca town"!

17 Jan 06 - 08:58 PM (#1650572)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

I have a CD performed by "various artist" entitled "New Orleans Party Classics" {1992 Rhino Records} that has an Iko Iko version that is very similar to the lyrics Bob Coltman lyrics posted. Unfortunately, I can't find the CD package to identify who sung this {or other songs} on the CD.

The singer's enunciation isn't clear {to me}. But here's my take of the verses:

Iko Iko
Iko Iko ah day
Jockomo feeno ah na nay
Jockomo feena nay

Hey now (hey now)
Hey now (hey now)
Iko iko ah day
Jockomo feeno ah na nay
Jockomo feena nay

My spy boy and your spy boy
sittin on the bayo
My spy boy told your spy boy
I'm gonna set your tail on fiyo

My ma reine and your ma reine
sittin on the bayo
My ma reine told your ma reine
I'm gonna set your thing on fiyo

We gone down to Bollashon [?]
We don't care till the whole don [damn?] mornin
See mah ree [??] down the railroad track
Put his head in ah chicken sack

My little boy told your little boy
put your head on miyo
My little girl told your little boy
we gonna get your chicken wiyo

We gone down to Becca town
We don't care if you mess around [?]
Call us what you tell them to [?]
Cause we don't aint do what you tell us to


It should be noted that the performer sings the line "Iko Iko ah day" or "Jockomo feeno ah na nay/Jockomo feena nay" sometimes after each line, and sometimes after two lines.

17 Jan 06 - 09:04 PM (#1650575)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Finally {for this evening anyway}, I'm reposting this comment that I made on the Cajun Music thread:

Subject: RE: Cajun Music
From: Azizi - PM
Date: 15 Jan 06 - 11:59 AM

Also, with regard to the "flag boys" lyrics that are part of the song "Iko Iko", see the following two websites about Mardi Gras Indians:

"The Mardi Gras Indians revel in revealing their elaborate creations in beadwork, feathers and plumes inspired by the ceremonial and war suits and headdresses of the Plains Indians of the 19th century. They thrive in New Orleans today as the living manifestation of an age-old ritual, preserved and practiced by the descendants of African slaves held captive in America, which goes back to the perambulating societies of West Africa and their call-and-response chants, and to the secret societies of masked warriors which are common to both African and native American cultures.

It's a ritual which continues to live in the mean streets of 21st-century New Orleans and in the hearts of the people of the most run-down, destitute, stripped-bare-and-left-for-dead underclass neighborhoods of the city, where the Wild Indians of Mardi Gras perennially represent the triumph of spirit, creativity, and beauty of song and dance over every obstacle placed in their arduous path.

There's nothing like seeing the Wild Indians in their natural habitat, emerging like eye-popping apparitions in all their magnificent finery out of the doorways of dilapidated inner-city houses and project apartments to strut and swagger down the middle of the beat-up streets where they struggle just like everyone else to make a living and somehow survive the crime, violence, joblessness and grinding poverty of their neighborhoods throughout the rest of the year. That's the real-life context of the Wild Indians of Mardi Gras, and year after year they manage to rise above the morass of daily life to make themselves over as creatures of immense power and beauty.

Every year, starting around Thanksgiving and continuing every Sunday evening until Mardi Gras, the members and followers of each Wild Indian gang meet up at their favorite neighborhood bar to conduct "Indian practice," a torrid ritual where the traditional chants are rehearsed and refreshed, new chants are introduced and prepared for the streets, the thrilling Indian dances and man-to-man confrontations are tried out and tested in action, old friendships are celebrated and warm new alliances may be formed.

The Indian practices are conducted or supervised by each tribe's Big Chief, who generally leads the singing and directs the course of action in this familiar setting. Other lead singers, either tribe members (Spy Boys, Flag Boys, Trail Chiefs, Wild Men) or second-line regulars and one-time Indians who know how it goes, spell the Big Chiefs throughout the evening, showing off their vocal prowess, firm grasp of the idiom, and strength of performance..."
Mardi Gras Indians

Big Chief: the leader of a particular Indian gang, and often the oldest member

- Second Chief, etc.: many gangs have underlings of the Big Chief without specific roles, unlike:

- Wild Man: member of the gang responsible for clearing a way through the crowd for the Big Chief, identifiable by horns on his suit and/or staff

- Flag Boy, First Flag, etc: member that carries the large, usually feathered staffs who conveys contact with rivals gangs spotted by the Spy Boy to the rest of the gang

- Spy Boy: member responsible for locating rival gangs and alerting his gang to their whereabouts, so a battle may ensue; often carries a decorated facsimile of a rifle..."

Wild Indians of New Orleans


I'm uncertain of the impact of Katrina and its aftermath on the members and families of Mardi Gras Indians groups, and on the traditions of Mardi Gras Indian masking and chanting {not to mention Zydeco music, and New Orleans jazz and blues}. I'm afraid that the impact is likely to have been devastating.

This is a low down cryin disgrace for a nation that prides itself on being the most civilized in the world.

18 Jan 06 - 10:13 AM (#1650875)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman

Azizi, thanks for picking that up. The so-called "Cajun Music" thread is actually a huge misnomer, as it is nearly all about "Iko Iko." They need to be closely linked.

I can't find the "make a blue clicky" directions, but here is the url of the "Cajun Music" thread:


Herewith a frantic plea:

~~~~~~~ HEY JOE PLEASE NOTE!!!!~~~~~~~~~~


And it should be included among the Related Threads at the top of this and the other related pages.


    How 'bout Cajun Music/Origins of 'Iko Iko'?
    -Joe Offer-

18 Jan 06 - 02:48 PM (#1651066)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: jojofolkagogo

Glad to see someone knows how to spell   "SPELLED"

In case you wanna know "SPELT" is a type of wheat !!!

The word is Spelled - correct


18 Jan 06 - 02:56 PM (#1651074)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: TheBigPinkLad

Spelt is also a correct form of the past tense of the verb 'to spell.'

18 Jan 06 - 04:12 PM (#1651124)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Joe, I agree that both Iko Iko and Cajun should be it the title. There is some mixture to the posts.

18 Jan 06 - 04:22 PM (#1651132)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Richard Bridge

What I want to know is why the overdubbed bass in the Dixie Cups version is not quite in tune!

18 Jan 06 - 05:56 PM (#1651183)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: PoppaGator

I've noticed that some Indians pronounce it "fee-nah-nay" while others say "fee-on-day." Commercial recordings also feature both pronunciations.

Years ago, Cyril Neville (whose uncle was a notable Big Chief, and thus would presumably know) told a group of us, with a straight face, that the English translation of "Jockamo Fee Nah Nay" was "Eat my drawers." This was years before Bart Simpson popultized a similar expression; I had never heard such a thing ang of course burst out laughing. None of us took him too seriously ~ you don't expect a straight answer to an inquiry about tribal secret codes, any more than you'd expect a Shriner to reveal their secret handshake or whatever.

I suppose the more scholarly translations provided above are more likely to be accurate, but I'm still not totally sure we can presume to have penetrated the confidentiality of a such a tiny, exclusive, tightly-knit and supremely purposeful group.

About that other thread title: it's a quandry, all right, since the originators assumption that "Iko" is "Cajun" was completely wrong, but the thread eventually came to the correct conclusion. How 'bout "Not-Really-Cajun Music"?

18 Jan 06 - 05:56 PM (#1651185)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

I'm not sure if anyone else has made a connection between the Mardi Gras Indians and the Jonkonnu {John Canoe}celebrations by 18th century {and probably earlier} African Americans in the South. Both feature masking and promanading in the streets. Both seem to be a blend of West African, Caribbean, and English traditions.

See this description of the early Mardi Gras Indian costumes from the Grateful Dead page whose link was provided earlier:

Reg Johnsey came up with this explanation {for the reference to chicken wire in the song "Iko Iko":
The way country people celebrated Carnivale/Mardis Gras was to make conical masks out of chicken wire and decorate them, wearing them with costumes festooned with strips of cloth. So, the references to fixing someone's chicken wire sounds like a joking threat to mess up their masks, since part of the battle was how good the costumes were."

And see this excerpt from this website:
Pulse Planet: Jonkonnu

"Jonkonnu drumming and singing
We're in New Bern, North Carolina where musicians and dancers, dressed in feathers and brightly colored rags make their way down the street from house to house. They're observing a frenetic ritual that blends elements of West African, Caribbean, and English tradition. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. In the celebration known as Jonkonnu , revelers dance to the sound of a square drum called a "gumba box." Slaves probably brought it to North Carolina from Jamaica around the year 1770. Historian Simon Spalding says that like the drum, many aspects of this festival can be traced back through time. However, the origin of the word "Jonkonnu" itself remains a mystery.

"There are literally dozens of possible derivations in several African languages that have to do with festival celebrations. It was also suggested that there was someone named John Canoe or John Cooner who was a slave trader on the coast of Africa, and that ís who it was named for - because in some versions Jonkonnu is a person, in other cases it's the description of the whole celebration."

It's easy to hear the Afro-Caribbean influence of Jonkonnu music. But other important elements of the the celebration, like the prominent figure of a Ragman, harken back to English customs.

"Jonkonnu is often held in the Caribbean, and I'm told in Guyana as well, on Boxing Day, which is a very traditional English holiday, the day after Christmas. On Boxing Day in many parts of England men dance in the streets wearing ragman clothes like this - trousers and jackets or shirts that have these strips of cloth - and often carrying wooden swords. In Jonkonnu in Jamaica, and here in North Carolina, you have the exact same kinds of clothing and you also have the ragman often carrying a wooden stick."


BTW, I'm not an adherent of the view that Jonkonnu comes from the name of a slave trader named "John Canoe" . Why would enslaved people be celebrating the memory of a slave trader? I believe that's a bogus folk etymological {if that's such a word} explanation. I'd suggest looking for the word or similar words in African cultures that celebrate or honor spirits and ancestors through masking. One example I'd promote is the Egungun celebrations in Nigeria.

18 Jan 06 - 06:10 PM (#1651190)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

See this description of the Egungun festival:

"EGUNGUN really means "bone," hence "skeleton," and Egungun himself is supposed to be a man risen from the dead. The part is acted by a man disguised in a long robe, usually made of grass, and a mask of wood, which generally represents a hideous human face, with a long pointed nose and thin lips, but sometimes the head of an animal.

Egungun appears in the streets by day or night indifferently, leaping, dancing, or walking grotesquely, and uttering loud cries. He is supposed to have returned from the land of the dead in order to ascertain what is going on in the land of the living, and his function is to carry away those persons who are troublesome to their neighbors. He may thus be considered a kind of supernatitral inquisitor who appears from time to time to inquire into the general domestic conduct of people, particularly of women, and to punish misdeeds. Although it is very well known that Egungun is only a disguised man, yet it is popularly believed that to touch him, even by accident, causes death.

A crowd always stands round watching, at a respectful distance, the gambols of an Egungun, and one of the chief amusements of the performer is to rush suddenly towards the spectators, who fly before him in every direction in great disorder, to avoid the fatal touch. To raise the hand against Egungun is punished with death, and women are forbidden, on pain of death, to laugh at him, speak disparagingly of him, or say he is not one who has risen from the dead. "May Egungun cut you in pieces," is an imprecation often heard.

Egungun is thus at the present day a sort of "bogey," or make-believe demon, whose chief business is to frighten termagants, busybodies, scandalmongers, and others, but it seems probable that originally he was regarded as the incarnation of the dead, and that the whole custom is connected with manes-worship. In June there is an annual feast for Egungun lasting seven days, during which lamentations are made for those who have died within the last few years. It is a kind of All-Souls festival, and resembles the Affirah-bi festival of the Tshi tribes, described in the first volume of this series.[1] Moreover, Egungun also appears in connection with funeral ceremonies. A few days after the funeral an Egungun, accompanied by masked and disguised men, parades the streets of the town at night, and, as in the Roman conclainatio, calls upon the deceased loudly by name. A superstitious and half -frightened crowd follows, listening for any response that may be given to the weird cries of the Egungun. A few days later the Egungun, again accompanied by several followers, proceeds to the house in which the death took place, and brings to the relatives news of the deceased, usually that he has arrived in Deadland safely, and is quite well. In return for the good news the family set food, rum, and palm-wine in a room of the house, and inviting the Egungun to partake of it, themselves retire, for to see Egungun eating is death. When Egungun and his followers have consumed everything loud groans are heard to issue from the room, and, this being a sign that be is about to depart, the family re-enter and entrust him with messages for the deceased.

A large proportion of the slaves landed at Sierra Leone, at the beginning of the present century, from slave-ships that had been captured by British cruisers, were Yorubas, and their Christian descendants have preserved the practice of Egungun, who may often be seen performing his antics in the streets of Freetown. There, however, his disguise is less elaborate than in Yoruba country, and he appears in a long robe of cotton-print, with a piece of cloth, having apertures for the eyes, covering the face and head. Spectators soon gather round him, and though, if asked, they will tell you that it is only "play," many of them are half-doubtful, and whenever the Egungun makes a rush forward the crowd flees before him to escape his touch."

Source: http://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/yor/yor07.htm


Also, does Egungun=Bogeyman?

18 Jan 06 - 06:20 PM (#1651197)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Some may consider that I've drifted far from the lyrics of the Mardi Gras Indian song, "Iko Ikp". However, my interest is in the culture that produced the song, and how the song is presented {performed} and not just the song's lyrics.

And so, there's no doubt that Iko Iko came from the Mardi Gras Indians. There is less certainity as to whether the African Americans who masks as Indians are linked to the Yoruba {Nigeria, West Africa} Egungun ceremonies. But I think it's a concept worth exploring.

Here's another description of Egungun:
The Egungun are masked men who represent the spirits of the living-dead. Some say they derive their name from the Yoruba word for "bones" or "skeleton," yet according to Babayemi, the correct pronunciation of the word in Yoruba means "masquerade." The Egungun appears as "a robed figure which is designed specially to give the impression that the deceased is making a temporary reappearance on earth" (Idowu 208). This impression is enhanced by the complete coverage of the individual. "It is absolutely essential that not a single particle of the human form should be visible; for, if this rule is broken, the man wearing the dress must die (presumably as an imposter!), and every woman present must likewise die" (Farrow 76). Having any contact whatsoever with an Egungun can prove deadly for both the Egungun and the other person, so a whip is often carried to drive people away. "Should he do so ever so slightly (e.g. if the wind caused his garment to barely touch the garment of any ordinary man, woman or child) he would be put to death, together with the person (man or woman) whom he touched, or by whom he was touched, and so also would every woman present" (77). While these policies have changed since British colonization, there is still great respect for the mysterious Egungun.

The costumes of the Egungun vary greatly from region to region. Some Egungun cover themselves in raffia, while others are concealed under an elaborate costume of cloth. The masks they wear may be carved of wood, made of contemporary materials, or composed of such found objects as antlers, skulls or even modern gas masks. In some regions it is popular to cover the face with cloth instead of a mask. This is often combined with a long train of fabric that trails behind the Egungun; the longer and more elaborate the train, the wealthier the family. To complete the illusion, the Egungun must also disguise his voice, which is often disguised in a low rumble or high falsetto.

There are numerous Yoruba myths that explain the origins of these masked spirits. One such myth says that when a man dies his spirit joins the ancestors to become an Egungun. When the body is covered from head to toe for burial, so is the Egungun in heaven, which is why they appear completely covered when they appear on this plane."

Source: Egungun: the masked ancestors of the Yoruba by Laura Strong, PhD

19 Jan 06 - 06:42 PM (#1651729)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

I found a website that lists the Top 40 Mardi Gras Songs

Those songs are:

1) Big Chief Part - Professor Longhair   
2) Knock With Me - Rock With Me - Little Rascals Brass Band
3) Carnival Time - Al Johnson
4) Go To The Mardi Gras - Professor Longhair
5) Street Parade - Earl King
6) I Luv me sum Mardi Gras - Tha Nu Jaz Orda      
7) Mardi Gras Mambo - Meters
8) New Suit - The Wild Magnolias
9) Second Line - Stop, Inc.
10) Congo Square - Cyril Nevil
11) Ain't My Fault - Olympia Brass Band
12) Iko Iko - Dixie Cups
13) Hey Pocky - nay - Meters
14) They All Ask For You - Meters
15) Mardi Gras In New Orleans - Dirty Dozen Brass Band
16) Tipitina - Professor Longhair
17) Ain't there no more - Benny Grunch Bunch
18) Mardi Gras Medley - Mardi Gras Big Shots
19) Mardi Gras in Mobile - Ray Parnell
20) Project Love - Rebirth Brass Band
21) Fire on the Bayou - The Neville Brothers
22) Bourbon Street Parade
23) Mardi Gras City - Olympia Brass Band
24) South Rampart Street Parade
25) Walking to New Orleans - Fats Domino
26) Handa Wanda Part 1 - Bo Dollis Wild Magnolias Indians
27) Handa Wanda Part 2 - Bo Dollis Wild Magnolias Indians
28) New Second Line - Olympia Brass Band
29) If Ever I Cease To Love - A.J. Loria
30) Tiger Rag - Olympia Brass Band
31) Just A Closer Walk With Thee
32) Ain't No Place To Pee On Mardi Gras Day - Benny Grunch
33) Fire Water - The Wild Magnolias
34) Olympia On Parade - Olympia Brass Band
35) Dat's Mardi Gras - Jake The Snake
36) Jockomo - Sugarboy Crawford
37) Olympia Special - Olympia Brass Band
38) Lil' Liza Jane - Dirty Dozen Brass Band
39) The Day After Mardi Gras - The Lakefront Loungers
40) Mardi Gras Mambo - The Hawketts

Rank is determined by airplay on WWOZ radio, KMEZ radio, and records sales as provided by LA Music factory, Odyssey Records and reviews by Mardi Gras Digest and Offbeat Magzines.


Unfortunately, only a few of these songs have hyperlinks to some information about the recordings and the song's lyrics.

But still, much thanks to Mardi Gras Digest for this list.

19 Jan 06 - 06:55 PM (#1651747)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Here's the lyrics to Handa Wanda in French:

Handa Wanda

La plus belle chose que j'ai jamais vu.
Les grands sauvages dansaient dans la rue.
Si beaux, si chauds, si forts, si grands,
Et à leur tête le grand Handa Wanda.

Jo ko mo fi no hé la hé,
Danser toute la grande journée.
Handa Wanda hé la hé,
Danser, danser, danser, danser.

Traditionelle, paroles: Zachary Richard, Les Editions du Marais Bouleur

source: http://zacharyrichard.com/lyrics/wanda.html

19 Jan 06 - 07:00 PM (#1651758)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

http://www.bluesaccess.com/No_43/magnolias.html has an interview with Big Chief Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolia. Bo Dollis wrote "Handa Wanda" and other chants that are now Mardi Gras Indian classics.

Here's an introduction to the interview:

For a hundred years or more, the Mardi Gras Indians conducted their Sunday evening "Indian practices" and annual Carnival Day celebrations strictly within the confines of the city's African American neighborhoods, preserving the essence of African music within an uniquely American context. The instruments that propelled the tribes as they hit the streets on Mardi Gras were limited to bass drums, tom-toms, tambourines and even beer bottles struck with sticks, and that was the way black people in New Orleans heard the music for a very long time.

But it all changed one Sunday in 1970 when Quint Davis, producer of the fledgling New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, walked into an Indian practice and listened to Big Chief Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolia sing the traditional chants. After the practice, Davis approached the Big Chief and asked if he'd consider recording his music with a band backing him up.

Davis assembled an all-star R&B unit, the New Orleans Project — with pianist Willie Tee, guitarist Snooks Eaglin, Willie's brother Earl Turbinton on saxophones and a smoking rhythm section — and took the Wild Magnolias and their battery of street percussionists into the studio with them to record a Bo Dollis original called "Handa Wanda." Released on 45 rpm, this single recording spawned a whole new genre of New Orleans music as it fused the ancient sounds of the Wild Indians with the new world of funk to create something that had never been heard before.

Spurred by the enthusiastic response to the single from the patrons of street-corner bars all across the Crescent City, Davis secured a two-LP recording contract for the Wild Magnolias with Barclay Records of France and went back into the studio to cut a full album's worth of material. Released on Polydor Records in the United States, The Wild Magnolias — with its irresistible rhythms, brilliant solo work by Snooks Eaglin and the lusty lead vocals of Bo Dollis — became an instant classic, introducing traditional Wild Indian songs like "Two-Way-Pak-E-Way" and Bo Dollis/Willie Tee originals like "Smoke My Peace Pipe" and "(Somebody's Got) Soul, Soul, Soul."

A second album, They Call Us Wild, was issued in 1975, and the Wild Magnolias took briefly to the road to explore a new career as stage performers. But Polydor failed to exercise its option for U.S. release of the LP, and soon the Magnolias returned to their Third Ward neighborhood and their traditional role as cultural preservationists. They continued to make an annual appearance on stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where they were joined by fellow Mardi Gras Indian gangs like the Black Eagles, Wild Tchoupitoulas and other established tribes.

The Wild Magnolias' professional career was revived in the '80s by the late Allison Miner, who put a band behind them, booked club and concert dates, and landed a contract with Rounder Records. Their 1990 release, I'm Back … at Carnival Time, added a new layer of musical innovation when they brought in the Re-Birth Brass Band to accompany several Wild Indian numbers. On Super Sunday Showdown (1991) they collaborated with Dr. John and Willie Tee on two tunes and cut the relentless "Let's Go Get 'Em" and "Shoo-Fly" with Re-Birth backing them up."

19 Jan 06 - 07:40 PM (#1651787)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

The similarity between the feathered and beaded suits wore by the African Americans who masks as Mardi Gras Indians and the feathered customes wore by White men who parade with the fancy divisions of various Philadelphia, PA Mummers groups is unmistakable.

Examples of Mardi Gras Indian can be found at http://www.zymondo.com/mardigras/indians.html and http://www.mardigrasindians.com/


Examples of Philadelphia Mummers can be found at Philadelphia fancy division mummer , "Downtowners" Mummers photos and Philadelphia mummers website

05 Sep 06 - 07:56 AM (#1827331)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

In case someone is searching for information on terms associated with the Mardi Gras Indian chants and other New Orleans songs, and hasn't visited the Jacomo finane? What does that mean?
thread yet, I'm reposting excerpts of this comment that I posted on that thread today:

"...visit my website page http://www.cocojams.com/mardi_gras_indian_chants1.htm for [the explanation I quoted above that GUEST,Bob Coltman gave about the meaning of jacomo "finane"] and other explanations of words & phrases mentioned in Iko Iko and other Mardi Gras Indian songs such as these:

"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..."


These explanations were provided to me by NOLA/NYC who shared in a number of email exchanges beginning in 4/3/06, as his name alludes, he was a longtime resident of New Orleans now living in New York City, and has ongoing interactions with New Orleans musicians & other folks who live {or lived} in New Orleans.

Here's another quote from an email I received from NOLA/NYC in 4/06:
[this isn't included in my post in the Jacomo finane thread]:

"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"."

Of particular interest to me is NOLA/NYC's comment that "There was indeed a Mardi Gras this year,[2006] 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".


I'd love to hear from others who have any knowledge about the Mardi Gras Indian traditions in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina and afterwards. You can pm me or contact me via the Cocojams website.


05 Sep 06 - 01:26 PM (#1827591)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: BuckMulligan

What a great thread - thanks for the tons of info about something that's puzzled & delighted me for many years.

05 Nov 06 - 01:44 PM (#1876810)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

A visitor to my website www.cocojams asked if the Mardi Gras Indians chant Iko-Iko is the same as Zap Mama's song Iko-Iko.

Here's the bulk of my response to that query:

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

http://www.lyricskeeper.com/zap_mama-lyrics/227758-iko_iko-lyrics.htm has this version of the lyrics to Zap Mama's Iko Iko {from the album Mission Impossible 2}:

Hey , mister see the sister
Don't you let them feel you
Sticks and stones may break your bones
But now her looks could kill you
Hey , come away
Souca souca na na
Come on , come on , miss
allez , allez ,
With a souca souca mama
Oh , hey , come away
Souca souca na na
Come on , come on , miss
allze , allez .
With a souca souca maman
On , hey , come away
Souca souca na na
Come on , come on , miss
allze , allze
With a souca souca mama
Come on , come on miss ,
allze , allze
With a souca souca mama.


http://www.morgud.com/stela5/lyrics/fd4t5.asp has this version of that Zap Mama song:

{Voice): "Erurunti sacamona!"

Hey now!
Hey now!
Hey now! (x2)

Hey mister, see that sister
Don't you let her thrill you.
Sticks and stones may break your bones,
But man, her looks could kill you.

ho, ho

Hey, come my way
Azucar* azucar mama
Come a come a nay sa le a le
With a azucar azucar mama

Hey now!
Hey now!
Hey now! (x2)

Hey brother, there's another
Azucar mama turnin'
The sun will rise and blind your eyes
The fire keeps on burnin'

ho, ho

Hey, (hey now) come my way
Azucar* azucar mama
Come a come a nay sa le a le
With a azucar azucar mama

(Chorus repeat)

Hey now!
Hey now!
Hey now! (x2)

Hey, hey now, come on play now
Buy me 'smile' that's packin'
Better get it while you can
While the azucar mama's shakin'

ho, ho

(Chorus X 2)

Hey now!
Hey now!
Hey now! (x2)

(mouth voices and shouting/longing)

Hey now!
Hey now!
Hey now!
Hey now!
Hey now!

If your baby, makes you crazy
Don't know where she's goin'
Eyes so messed up that they look
Which way the wind is blowin'

ho, ho

(Chorus X 2)

Azucar, oh me!

Azucar, oh me! Azucar, oh my!
Azucar oh my! Come my way! (x4)

(Chorus X 2)


Here's some thoughts about these versions:

First off, I think that the introductory phrase "Erurunti sacamona!"in the http://www.morgud.com/stela5/lyrics/fd4t5.asp version is similar to the "Jacoma fe nan e" phrase found in most Iko Iko songs.

Also I found it interesting that the first version listed above had the line "with a souca souca mama' but that in the second version it is changed to "with a azucar azucar mama". The person who posted the lyrics in the morgud.com website second version noted that "azucar" means sugar in Spanish. I'm not sure if "a souca souca mama" is traditionally a part of the Iko Iko song. I know that the French language and Creole versions of that language were very a part of the New Orleans cultural mix, but I'm not sure if the Spanish language and culture was also a part of that mix.

I'm also wondering if this line is the same as "Ah Uhh! Awww, sookie sookie now! that is found in the 1970 R&B hit song "Groove me" . 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 woman. For instance, if a man sees a woman who is "built" or who is dancing sensually, he might say "Ah sookie sookie now". I 've always thought that the word "sookie' came from one of the nickname for Susan {Sukie}. But that word might have come from the Spanish word "azucar". Then again, it might also come from the West African female day name "Akosua" {female born on Sunday}.


I mentioned to the person who submitted this query that I would post her {his?} question on this thread.

I'd be interested if any folks here have any thoughts on my thoughts about this song :o] or if you have any other comments about Zap Mama Iko Iko's song.



05 Nov 06 - 02:06 PM (#1876837)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Elmer Fudd

Great thread, Azizi and y'all. I heard/saw a smokin' performance of Iko Iko very far away from New Orleans: Wavy Gravy's 70th birthday celebration. It was a benefit concert for the Seva Foundation. Mickey Hart and Planet Drum performed the song, accompanied by Joan Baez. A full, international drum ensemble provided the beat, and Mickey Hart and Joan Baez sang the verses and led a large auditorium full of people in the chorus.

The audience was multi-generational and multi-ethnic, with a healthy sprinkling of gray-haired hippies and their spike-haired, heavily pierced offspring (and my octagenarian mother). Everyone was on their feet, dancing and stomping and singing along. Joan Baez danced all over the stage. At one point she grabbed Mickey Hart for a minute of partner dancing, then turned to the audience and flexed her muscles, as if she had reaaaally scored by getting to dance with Mickey.

Joan returned to the stage a few minutes later wearing a clown nose to sing happy birthday to Wavy Gravy. BIG FUN!


05 Nov 06 - 07:30 PM (#1877068)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: michaelr

Great thread, Azizi!

I've been singing "Hey Pocky Way" for a while now and would be interested to find out the meaning of that phrase. Have you come across anything on it?


06 Nov 06 - 05:29 PM (#1877766)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Spanish business men and their capital financed several buildings in the old quarter of New Orleans. The area was Spanish, not French, for part of the pre-Purchase period. In 1762, Louis XV gave New Orleans and most of Louisiana west of the Mississippi to Charles III of Spain. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 transferred ownership to Spain. France regained control and Napoleon sold it to the States in 1803, but Spanish money continued to be important in the early 19th c. Some of the old patrician families of New Orleans had Spanish ancestry.

It is my understanding that the songs of the Marti Gras 'Indians' change and evolve from year to year, depending on who is leading the singing.

Azucar, if the interpretation is accurate, more likely would come from the Caribbean-Latin American trade in the Port, rather then from the old Spanish days.

06 Nov 06 - 06:36 PM (#1877821)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Q, thanks for that information about the history of the Spain/Spanish language as it pertains to New Orleans. Perhaps, "ah sookie sookie" does come from the Spanish word "azucar" {sugar}. That fits with the sexually coded way that expression is used.

As to your statement "that the songs of the Marti Gras 'Indians' change and evolve from year to year, depending on who is leading the singing, from what I've read that certainly appears to be true. However, that does not negate the fact that performers continue to use certain traditional verses, refrains, and expressions.


michaelr, unfortunately, I've not found any information on the meaning of the Mardi Gras Indian expression "Hey Pocky Way" or the related expression "Tu Way Pakoway".

Perhaps these expressions have no literal meaning, or maybe their literal meaning{s} has been forgotten. And it's also possible that the meaning{s} of those expressions meaning are a secret to all but those organizations' members. But it would be great if there are some folks in the know would share some for real information about the the origin of those expressions and their past & present day cultural meaning.

Sometimes you learn things when you least expect it. For example, I believe I stumbled across a children's foot stomping cheer that is based on the Mardi Gras Indian expression "Tu Way Packaway".

Way back in 1985, a group of African American girls {approximate ages 9-12 years} in Braddock, PA performed this foot stomping cheer for me while we were waiting for more children to arrive for an after-school session I was to facilitate. The cheer was recited in a sing-songey voice while the group of girls performed a synchronized bass sounding foot stomping routine to a "Stomp Stomp Clap; Stomp Stomp Clap" beat.      

Here is that cheer:

Group                Two way pass away
                Two way pass away
Soloist #1        Well my name is Shana
Group                Two way pass away
Soloist #1        They call me "Shay" "Shay"
Group                Two way pass away
Soloist #1        And if you don't like it
Group                Two way pass away
Soloist #1        You can kiss what I twist
Group                Two way pass away
Soloist #1        And I don't mean my lips
Group                Two way pass away

(Repeat cheer with the next soloist and continue until every member has had one turn as soloist}.
I gave that cheer high mark for creative attitude, especially the "You can kiss what I twist and I don't mean my lips" line. I knew what that line meant, but what about the "Two Way Pass Away" title and refrain? Unfortunately, no one present at the program knew what that line meant. Having never seen the cheer in written form, the girls couldn't even tell me if the first word in the title was written "two, or "too" or to". I arbitrarily chose "two", thinking that the rhyme might be talking about a two way street, or something else, but what? Of course, the girls felt that my questions about the cheer's meaning were beside the point. Children don't perform cheers to make some heavy duty sociological or psychological statement. They perform cheers because they enjoy doing so.

Years passed, and it wasn't until 1998 that I stumbled across a clue that pointed to this cheer's meaning. As luck would have it, I found a used copy of a 1968 book by Harold Courlander called "Negro Folk Rhymes, USA". In one chapter of that book Courlander wrote about the Golden Blades, Yellow Pocahontas, and other Wild Indian groups of African Americans from the New Orleans, Louisiana area. Since the late 1880s, these groups have created beautiful feather costumes and paraded down New Orleans streets during Mardi Gras and other holidays, in imitation & in honor of Native Americans who had provided support to African Americans during and after slavery.
The main chant that is associated with the Wild Indian groups is
"Tu Way Pakaway".

I believe that "Tu Way Pakaway" is the origin of the "Two Way Pass Away" chant. It's not hard to imagine that African Americans from the Pittsburgh area would have some knowledge about the Mardi Gras Indians since a number of African Americans living in Pittsburgh came from the South, visit back & forth, and otherwise communicate with Southern relatives & friends.

Few street cheers are written down or otherwise recorded. Most of them have a short life span. As time passes, the chants are significantly changed or are completely forgotten. I regret that I've not been able to locate and interview the girls who performed this chant in 1985 to ask them if they have any Southern roots. Unfortunately, although I have asked long time residents of Braddock, PA who would be about the same age group of these girls, I haven't met anyone else in Braddock, Pa, or in its surrounding communities near Pittsburgh, PA who remembers this "Two Way Pass Away" cheer. Unlike the Mardi Gras Indian expression "Tu Way Packaway" memory of the children's cheer "Two {Tu?}Way Pass Away" appears to have faded away.

Too bad.

24 Jan 07 - 07:29 PM (#1947171)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko

sucre is french for sugar....
and since there's a lot of french culture there I would think "suca suca" comes from sucre not azucar.... and marraine would come from "ma reine" rather than "mi reina". it's closer, don't you think?

24 Jan 07 - 08:03 PM (#1947198)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Yes, Guest, you're probably right as New Orleans cultures were more heavily influenced by the French than the Spanish.

I stand corrected. Or rather, I sit corrected.

24 Jan 07 - 11:38 PM (#1947289)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Cluin

Very interesting details of that great tune. Have played and sung it many times and it ALWAYS goes over well. People really connect to it.
I love the Zap Mama version, by the way.

One bit of info regarding Zap Mama... The group is headed by Marie Daulne, an intriguing talent. She was born in Zaire, her Bantu and her father Belgian. When she was a child, the Simba rebels there were trying to kill inter-racial couples. Her mother hid with her in the forest with the Pygmies for several months until she could get away to Belgium and Marie grew up there. Now her art involves an Afro-European mix of music.

Belgium has 3 official languages: Dutch, French and German. FWIW, the Dutch word for sugar is suiker and the German is zucker.

There... that ought to muddy the waters a bit.

24 Jan 07 - 11:40 PM (#1947290)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Cluin

...her mother was Bantu...

25 Jan 07 - 06:49 AM (#1947447)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Scrump

Rolf Harris also recorded it - probably a cover of the Dixie Cups' version (referred to above) at the time (c 1965)

25 Jan 07 - 05:19 PM (#1948003)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko

Something else that Azizi might be able to research is whether it is correct to refer to the Louisian language as french.
I was talking to a frenchwoman on a different topic a few months ago, she mentioned that many of the people crossing the atlantic were from the areas of Brittany down to Poitou, and that while their national identity was French, their language was not the "proper" french of the court and government.
(the Oxford illustrated history of france states somewhere that in the early 19th century a quarter of French nationals spoke regional patois and had difficulty understanding proper French).
It should be possible to find a dictionary of modern/revival Breton, no idea if there is a source for Poitouvan, and of course there might be significant changes from the language of colonial times.
Good luck, hope you can find some links.

25 Jan 07 - 05:56 PM (#1948041)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Guest, I'm in a literal mood today so let me say [write] that I hope somebody can research this, but I have no more connection to any university or reseach facility than any other Mudcat member or guest.

Of course, if I come across any information on this subject as I dibble and dabble in researching African American folk songs {using a wide definition of 'folk songs'}, and if I have Internet access and if Mudcat is still around {as I hope it will be} then I'll share that information here.

And I hope you [the collective "you"] will also do the same.

25 Jan 07 - 07:17 PM (#1948103)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: GUEST,Shi

I got a little tidbit!

So... I was wondering why they would refer to their grandma as "my queen" since I thought that was a bit strange. I searched my brain for what else "maraine" could mean and then I realized it could have possibly derived from "mère" (meaning mother in french) and "aîné" (meaning elder in french). thus, "maraine" would mean "elder mother" which I think makes more sense than my queen. Even more so because they are singing "my maraine" which would be like saying "my my queen"??
although... I could be completely wrong.

25 Jan 07 - 07:24 PM (#1948113)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko

marraine is godmother in french

20 Feb 07 - 10:19 PM (#1974479)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: GUEST,Alexander McQuilkin

This Song was Great Artist by Dr. John i am a fan of Dr. John

Alexander McQuilkin

18 Sep 08 - 10:28 AM (#2444014)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

Mudcat readers may be interested in this comment I recently received via my website. The comment is about place names mentioned in "Iko Iko":

"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; http://cocojams.com/mardi_gras_indian_chants1.htm

18 Sep 08 - 10:39 AM (#2444017)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: PoppaGator

Nice informative post from Neil.

I might add that a few folks here in N.O. managed to make a nervous joke or two last week referring to Hurricane Ike as Hurricane "Iko." Local columnist Angus Lind suggested that we sing the song, chanting "Ike, Go!" (as in, "go somewhere else," which it did.) Not that we ever wished bad luck upon our neighbors in Texas, but we've had enough of that misery for a whole lifetime.

I'm sure that the street-names refererenced in the song are "Dorgenois right near Dumaine," since, as Neil poits out, those two streets do intersect, whereas Dorgenois and Treme are parallel to each other and a good distance apart. Please keep in mind, however, that this is a true "folk song" in that not everyone sings the same lyrics, not by a longshot.

18 Sep 08 - 10:52 AM (#2444029)
Subject: RE: Iko Iko
From: Azizi

On 05 Nov 06 - 01:44 PM in this thread I posted my comment about the Zap Mama versions of the "Iko Iko."

Now, almost two years later, I have added this comment to that page on my website, and would like to also add it to this thread:

Providing that it's better late than never, I have recently become acquainted with the music of the Queen of Salsa music, Celia Cruz(October 21, 1925 – July 16, 2003).

In a number of her songs, Celia Cruz shouts the word "Azucar!, the Spanish word for "sugar". Shouting "Azucar!" became a signature feature of Celia Cruz's songs. Fans of Celia Cruz also adopted that custom, in a demonstration of their delight in this wonderful Latin vocalist, and in appreciation for her music. Celia Cruz's signature use of the word "azucar" can be interpreted to mean that the music is sweet {It's good to the ears, heart, and spirit}, and/or "life is sweet".

Given this information, it now seems likely to me that Celia Cruz's use of this word was the source or at least one of the sources for the phrase "azucar azucar mama" in the Zap Mama version of "Iko Iko".

Information about Celia Cruz can be found on a number of different websites, including http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz

Also, click on this hyperlink for a YouTube video of Celia Cruz: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lArGoRhFr4E&feature=related
"La Vida Es Un Carnaval" translation-"Life is a carnival"}.

Other Celia Cruz videos can be found on YouTube, including this Spanish interview and brief videotape of a concert in which Celia Cruz and various fans are shown shouting "Azucar!": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L39F3w0oVZ8&feature=related

03 Jan 09 - 12:36 AM (#2530234)
Subject: Folklore: Iko Iko - what movie showed the recordin
From: fergie38

I know I saw a movie that showed the Dixie Cups recording Iko Iko. They were playing a coke bottle with drumsticks. What movie was that? I'm a music teacher and really want to find this clip.

03 Jan 09 - 01:43 AM (#2530258)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Iko Iko - what movie showed the reco
From: maeve

I don't know what movie it was, fergie38, but I wonder if this Wiki link would be of any help in jogging your memory?



10 Feb 10 - 01:08 PM (#2835143)
Subject: Iko, Iko - the real words and meaning
From: Yanne

I've been reading the various threads in Iko, Iko with interest, especially as it's been going for nearly ten years now! Personally I never had much of a problem with the words of 'Iko, Iko' apart from a couple of blanks (due to fluent French plus great trips to the Creole Caribbean French islands and Cajun and Creole speaking Louisiana), but now I see that quite a lot of people are genuinely interested in the origins of the words. So I did some serious research (below) and I can tell you the words in Creole, with their French and English meanings.

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 the strets of 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.

You need some history to understand the real words. First, there's a controversy you should know about. In a 2002 interview Crawford says he phonetically copied down two chants. One was "Iko, Iko" - the other was "Jockomo fee no wah na nay". Sugar Boy Crawford said he then amalgamated the two separate chants and put them to music - and a great song was born.

The only problem with this story is that the chant "Hey now! Hey now! Iko! Iko!" is entirely absent from Crawford's "Jock-o-mo" released in 1953. Why tell a journalist you copied down two chants and amalgamated them and then go to a recording studio and only sing one of the chants? You don't need to take my word for it. Go to www.deezer.com and type in 'Jockomo' in the search box and you'll hear Crawford's 1953 hit free of charge. There's no 'Iko! Iko!' in the lyrics.

The words "Iko, Iko" only appeared twelve years later, in 1965, when the Dixie Cups recorded it on the Redbird Records label. The girl band claimed that they didn't understand the words themselves (not speaking Creole) and learned them parrot-fashion from their grandmother.

A lawsuit lodged by Sugar Boy Crawford claiming that the Dixie Cups version of the song was based on his original Jock-o-mo 1953 version was settled out of court. In his 2002 interview with Offbeat.com Crawford said he considered that it was better to have 50% of something than 100% of nothing.

I think the 50% settlement was really due to the fact that Crawford wrote half the song and the Dixie Cups wrote the other half. The "Jockomo fee no wah na nay'' lyrics were indeed first introduced by Crawford in 1953, but the "'''Iko, Iko'''" part wasn't, because it was introduced by the Dixie Cups.

Leaving aside the legal aspects of the claim, it's fascinating to know that the Dixie Cups had learnt the words parrot-fashion from their grandmother. So someone other than Crawford was also writing down (or remembering) the Black Indian chants at Mardi Gras in New Orleans!

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. Louisiana Creole originated from French descendants of the formerly French colony of Louisiana settled by King Louis IV (till Thomas Jefferson bought it in 1803 in the Louisiana Purchase). The language was that spoken by the slaves of the French colonists who copied it phonetically from their masters, so it's black French, and it was widely spoken by the New Orleans black population till English gradually took over as the main language.

It was short-form French - for instance an English equivalent would be "Me go bayou" for "I am going to the bayou."

Unfortunately, the Creole language was never written down (seriously) for 200 years except for a few poems or songs. Now, it's starting to be, but dictionaries are rare, and often incomplete. Some dictionaries that do however stand out are "Le Dictionnaire Créole" - "Le Dictionnaire Sioudi" - Louisiana Creole Vocabulary from angelfire - The Creole/English Wordlist" - the Verbix Creole conjugator – and perhaps the best is Webster's Creole/English dictionary.

Most of you in the threads seem to know a lot about the Black « Indian » tribes so I won't digress on them except to say there are now about 40 Indian tribes. It wasn't always so. "Jelly Roll" Morton (born Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe), the American jazz pianist, bandleader and composer, was a Spyboy in his youth, and revealed that at that time there were only four or five Black Indian tribes in New Orleans.

A good description (not mine) of the confrontations is: "One by one, dancing in toe/heel fashion, each member of a tribe meets his counterpart. Spyboy first meets Spyboy. Flagboy meets Flagboy. Wildman, then first, second, and third chiefs, queen(s) and children - all meet and play out their traditional roles. And finally one Big Chief faces the other. Knees bent, arms outspread, swaying from foot to foot and turning in a circular motion, the chiefs slowly size up each other. This preening proves especially effective for showing off the costumes. Prestige for the tribe is garnered through the beauty and intricacy of the suits, role playing, and the strength of its presence in the community".

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

The same description quoted above continued: "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."

Prior to this, the confrontations were to settle old scores, and tribes would stab and shoot each other's members. The violence has transcended tnto the modern 'music and dress' face-off's, though the New Orleans Police Department is always much in evidence wherever a tribe marches and chants at Mardi Gras.

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. A good example of Black Indian creole is in the chant or prayer that opens their Mardi Gras observance. They sing "Madi cu defio, en dans dey" which is a corruption of the old Creole song "M'allé couri dans déser" used in connection with Voodoo rituals and associated with the Calinda dance'' (Wilson, "Traditional Louisiana French Folk Music", pg 59; Mrs. Augustine Moore, interview with author, 1980).

"Iko, Iko" and "Jockomo" were two of these Black Indian chants.

==The phonetic words of the song Iko Iko==

The words as they are sung today are:
Hey now, Hey now
Iko, Iko, an day
Jockomo fee no wah na nay
Jockomo fee na nay''

Some singers deform the original lyrics – for example Dr. John signs "Hed now, Hed now" instead of "Hey now, Hey now," - which isn't Creole, Cajun, French, old French, Quebec French, or even English – it's pure artistic license. As you know, many singers covered Iko, Iko. You can hear all their different versions free of charge on deezer.com by typing in "Iko, Iko" into the search box.

Anyway, though musically richer, these newer versions consistently stray from the original. If the song is still being sung 500 years from now, one wonders what the words will have evolved to!

Let's start with the word "Jockomo".

Sugar Boy Crawford wasn't the only singer to use the word Chocomo (as he sang the word) or Jock-o-mo (as the record label misheard and entitled the song). The most oft-recorded Indian tribe, Big Chief Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles, issued "In the Morning, Jockomo", the Krewe Renegades recorded "Jockomo Zydeco", Huey Piano Smith's song "Don't You Know Yocomo" can be heard on Deezer.com and Danny Baker's song released on King Zulu Records had lyrics of "Choco Me Fee ndo Hey".

Jocomo is basically a name – and it's the only contestable part of what I'm writing because its origin is uncertain, even in Creole.

I see from the long thread that many of you have different meanings for Jocomo.
- Giacomo (from the Italian)
- Junkamo
- Jester or Jokester (Dr. John said this on the sleeve of one of his albums)
- John Jolly (apparently a famous former Big Chief tribe leader)

I find it hard to accept that Jackomo is 'Jester' despite Dr. John's huge reputation. The French, the Cajuns and the Creoles would all refer to a jester as a "fou", or as a "buffon" (buffoon in English) as the court of Louis IV did. Even the Joker in a deck of playing cards isn't called a 'Joker' but a 'fou'. If further proof be needed, not one of the Creole dictionaries or lexicons I refer to above cite the word Jockomo for 'jester'.

I don't think it can be Junkamo either (just doesn't sound right), nor John Jolly - wasn't he a genuine Cherokee Indian who lived in Houston, not a Black Indian from New Orleans? In fact, I've read letters between John Jolly and Sam Houston in 1837, written when Houston was the beginnings of a township when John Jolly was seeking protection of Native American rights and traditions.

I can see three possible alternatives. That Jocomo or Jackomo was a name is obvious, but it may have been a derived name.

It may have been Jacques, to which 'mot' was added affectionately meaning "Small Jack", or "Dear Jack" or "Our dear little Jack" – much as Pierrot is used for Pierre, and Jeannot for Jean.

Or it could be 'Birdman' – the 'Jaco' is Creole for a perroquet (parrot) and some of the Black Indian costumes are of men completely covered in feathers with a pseudo beak – le Jaco – easily turned into Jaccomo.

Or it could have been a monkey suit, from Jaquot (a monkey) but this is less likely because Jacquot is Creole for monkey in other Creole speaking parts of the world rather than in Louisiana.

Anyway, I hope we can all agree that Jocomo, whatever its origins, was a NAME.

Now we come to the critical lines:

Hey now! Hey now!
Iko, Iko an day
Jockomo fee no wah na nay
Jockomo fee na nay

The first two lines were originated by The Dixie Cups in 1965, the second two were initiated by Sugar Boy Crawford in 1953. These are genuine French Creole-origin sentences which were adapted in the Black Indian chant and which paid scant respect to the rules of French grammar. In Creole they are:

Ena! Ena!
Akout, Akout an deye
Jocomo fi nou wa na né
Jockomo fi na né

In English, this equates to:

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

Now we come to the part that deserves your closest attention – proving the above.

Ena! Ena! This is a coded 'call' – the chants were call and response songs – much as The Dixie Cups sang it. 'E' is 'and' (the French and Cajuns would have said 'Et', but Creole shortens everything), and 'na' is 'to have', 'I have', 'So', 'Then' etc. It would equate to something like "Now then!" But it's a coded call – it could start anyway you like to get a chant going.

"Iko" (first introduced by The Dixie Cups) is "Akout" in Creole, for the French "Ecoute!" or the English "Listen!". The fact that the French Creole "Akout!" (and sometimes just "koute") was pronounced as "Iko!" was due to how the Black Indians deformed or adapted the Creole word to suit their timing, metre or accent, softening and shortening the initial "A" and typically leaving off the hard "t" at the end of the word. So it ended up being sung as "Akou!" which in a noisy Indian face-off in a New Orleans street at Mardi Gras would phonetically come across as "Iko".

"An day" as written down by Crawford was in Creole "an deye". The word "an" is like the French 'en' (in) but accented in the Creole accent. In Creole it has lots of meanings - 'at', 'in' etc (See Webster's), and "deye" means 'after', behind' 'rear'. The procession of an Indian tribe in the streets at Mardi Gras is several hundred yards long and can extend over several city blocks. In front you have the ceremonially dressed Indians (Spyboy, Flagboy, 2d, 3rd, 4th Chiefs, the Queen, the Wildmen and so on) and they're followed by the rest of the voluminous tribe, not as fantastically garbed as the front runners. That's why the Big Chief has to be everywhere – he has to keep his entire Tribe in order and together. So "Akout, akout an deye" – Listen! Listen at the rear" is plausibly what the gang at the front leading the procession would be chanting to their followers behind them as the whole tribe marched down the street.

Next we have Crawford's "Jocomo fee no wah na nay". In Creole this is "Jocomo fi nou wa na né" – in English "Jocomo made our King to be born" (literally), but figuratively it would mean "Jocomo (Birdman I think) gave life to our king". Perhaps that particular King was dressed as a Bird.

Let's look at the individual words of that sentence - Jocomo fi nou wa na né .

Crawford's "fee" is "fi" in Creole, which is the third person past tense of the verb "faire" (to do, to make to cause etc). So "Jacquemot fi" would be "Jacquemot made" (or did, or prepared, or constructed or caused). Modern French has no word such as "fi". For "fi" the French say "fit" (made). In addition, modern French speakers rarely use "fit". Thus, to say "Jacquemot made" - they would say "Jacquemot a fait" – not "Jacquemot fit" (even though it is grammatically correct) - because it is 'old French'. However, 'old French' is very prevalent in the Creole language. It was the only French the slaves heard from their French masters back in the 1600's when New Orleans was built as a sea port/fort and from then on till the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The Verbix Conjugator gives the use of "fi" for all cases, singular and plural:

I made - mo fi
Thou made - to fi
He or she made - li fi
We made - nou fi
You made - vou fi
They made - yè fi

But Sugar Boy Crawford wasn't a Creole speaker. He was a young man listening to Black Indians slogging it out verbally at Mardi Gras. It's highly likely that when he heard the Indians chanting "Jacomo fi..." he would, quite naturally, have phonetically written it as "Chocomo fee..."

Crawford's "no" is not no.
The lyrics "Jockomo fee '''no'' are really Jackomo fi "nou". The "no" used in the Crawford version is not a negative. It's "nou" the Creole word for "our", "us" or "we" (Webster's). For Crawford the distinction must have been hard to pick up. He wrote down what he heard as best he could, equating the chanted 'nou' to the English word 'no' which must have popped into his mind as he was scribbling down the chant. Perhaps it was even due to the way the 'warring' Indians pronounced the word, cutting short the ending as they did for Akout..

The words "wah na nay"
As an entire set of three words, "wah na nay" does not exist in either traditional old French, modern French, or Cajun French. In phonetic Creole French however, it does exist. It's "wa" (in French Roi, in Englsh King) – "nan" (into) – "né" (born). The Creoles changed the French pronunciation of the word King (Roi) to the simpler and flatter "Wa'' leaving off the initial 'r' sound (you'll find 'wa' given as the Creole for 'Roi' in Creole/English Wordlist mentioned above). The word "Nan" is exclusively peculiar to Creole. You can check this in the Creole/English Wordlist which shows several meanings of "nan", which are 'into' 'in', 'to', 'on'.
And the word "Né" (born) is the same in both Creole and French, the past participle of the verb "naitre" (to be born) pronounced 'nay' just as Sugar Boy Crawford wrote it.

So the whole line: "Jockomo fee no wah na nay" is:"Jacquemot fi nou wa nan né" meaning "Jacquemot made our King into born" (in English: Jacquemot gave life to our King) and "Jockomo fee na nay" is: "Jacquemot fi nan né" meaning "Jacquemot made into born". In this sense it means "Jocomo made it happen".

It's the kind of pidgin-French that would make French speakers cringe, but Creole grammar, although similar, doesn't have the same syntax as classic French grammar.


As sung by Sugar Boy Crawford and the Dixie Cups:
Hey now! Hey now!
Iko! Iko! an day!
Jockomo fee no wah na nay
Jockomo fee na nay

In the original Creole French would be:
Ena! Ena!
Akout! Akout an dèyè!
Jacomo fi nou wa nan né
Jacomo fi nan né

And in English would be:
Hey now! Hey now! (or Hed Now!' if you're Dr. John)
Listen! Listen! at the rear!
Jacomo gave life to our King
Jacomo made it happen

As to the rest of the verses "My Flagboy, Sitting by the fire (fiyo by Dr. John) or My Marraine, or "gonna fix your chicken wire (wiyo by Dr John) etc etc, aren't Creole in origin. The Black Indians originally never sang those English language verses – they just sang the chant above. The English verses were written for the recording studios by the various people who have made hits with this song, each one adding his or her own verses. Crawford's were the original verses in English, and he slipped in the chants 'Jocomo fee nah nay" to finish off each verse and his successors improved and added to the verses.

It's never easy to decipher the true origins of a very old chant, especially as it wasn't written down but passed from generation to generation, but whatever the truth – it's still a great song!

Do write and let me know if this helped.

P.S. I'm also adding this to the other related threads referring to Jocomo.