Iko Iko: Meaning, History, and Modern Renditions
What does “Iko Iko” mean? NOBODY KNOWS.
It seems incredible that this song is so recognizable to generations of Americans – but it has no definitive meaning. If you Google “Iko Iko” or “Aiko Aiko” or “Jockomo” or “Jock-A-Mo” (All different titles for the same song) you’ll find many fascinating articles full of transliterations of a language variably described as Native American, or West African, or French Creole. Or all of the above.
Everyone does agree that this song is from New Orleans and is about Mardi Gras. It’s traditionally sung by parade krewes, “battling” each other in celebration with song, dance, and incredible costumes. What’s a krewe, you ask? Parade krewes are the social organizations that put on specific parades and/or balls for a given season. The oldest krewe in New Orleans dates back to 1856!
Unlike the mysterious chorus of “Iko Iko,” the verses are in English and contain playful jabs sung back and forth between the battling krewes. Perhaps the reason it’s common for these battling groups to come together and sing the chorus in unison is that no one knows what it means!
When Iko Iko starts in a Mardi Gras parade, everyone joins in. The whole street sings with the call-and-response verses, dances, and drums on anything that’s available. It’s an inclusive party and no one is allowed to stand still with their mouth closed! This of course translates perfectly to Music Class where we always want all grown-ups and kids to be singing and dancing and moving to the music.
The song has been recorded so many times and with so many different variations, we thought it would be fun to do a little time travel with the song up to the present day. (Scroll to the end for a truly hilarious modern-day version!!) Grab your favorite sticks/spoons/plastic sippy cups to jam with and sing along!
The Dixie Cups, 1965
Even though they were not the first to record the song, (It was first recorded by Sugar Boy and his Cane Cutters in 1953 under the title “Jock-A-Mo”) The Dixie Cups popularized the song with their international hit single.
Grateful Dead, 1989
Grateful Dead first performed the song in 1977, and it became a regular feature of their tours in the 80s and 90s. This video is from 1989. (Did you know the Grateful Dead played this song? I sure didn’t!)
Aaron Carter, 2000
Rest in Peace 😭😭😭
Jimmy Fallon, Sia, Natalie Portman, and The Roots, 2016
The new classic genre of using toy instruments and kitchen utensils to accompany a song - exactly like we do in Music Class!! Grab all of your noise making accoutrement and try this at home!!
Playing For Change, featuring Dr. John, 2021
"This song features Dr. John in one of his last known recordings, along with the Grateful Dead's Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, New Orleans' luminaries Ivan Neville, Donald Harrison, and George Porter, Jr., and more. Uniting musicians from Central Africa’s Congo to New Orleans’ Congo Square, this video serves to reconnect hearts and minds around the world through music." -Playing For Change
TikTok Dance and Fortnite (Official Fortnite Music Video), 2021
The most obvious proof that this song is still going strong and being reinvented in new, creative, and (dare I say) relevant/hilarious ways - is the TikTok dance challenge for Iko Iko - here being performed within the video game Fortnite.