The story behind the infectious Iko Iko tune

Philstar

May 25, 2021

There is no way that anybody who often visits social media nowadays, has not heard of the Iko Iko song. The version out there is by an entertainer from Papua New Guinea, named Justin Wellington and it features Small Jam. It has gone really big.

Everybody seems to be creating their own dance videos to the perky tune. In fact, there are now one million of those little Tik Tok uploads. Aside from that, it is said that the song gets streamed over 11 million times a day on Spotify and is at present No. 1 in seven markets.

Now, I was sure I had heard Iko Iko before. I was right. It is an oldie. It is the opening song in the movie Rain Man, which I had seen several times. The picture is quite good, really. One of Barry Levinson’s best. It is also one of the very few where Tom Cruise does not seem to be concerned with his camera angles and is not trying to out act the cast. How does one out act Dustin Hoffman anyway?

But back to Iko Iko. The song sets a happy, party mood. It is also very infectious. I initially thought it was Hawaiian. There is this South Seas vibe to the beat and the lyrics, difficult to decipher could have been from some old tribal language in the Pacific.

I was wrong. A trip to Wikipedia told me that Iko Iko is from New Orleans and has, in fact, been used quite a few times in movies with a Louisiana setting. It can be heard in The Big Easy, The Skeleton Key, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, The Hangover, K-9, Mission Impossible 2 and even Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, among others.

As for the words, original songwriter James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, who recorded it with his Cane Cutters in 1953, used Creole slang for the song. It tells the story of a street battle between native American Tribes during the annual Mardi Gras Parade.

This pre-Holy Week event has been a major tradition in New Orleans for a very long time. Those who join in spend the whole year looking forward to it and preparing the costumes and gimmicks they will bring out during the parade.

Sugar Boy first titled the song Jock-A-Mo, a sort of Indian victory chant. It became Iko Iko when it was recorded by The Dixie Cups some 10 years later. This was the girl trio famous for the ‘60s hit song Chapel of Love. They turned Iko Iko into a big seller that made the Top 10 in the Hot 100. Since they changed the title, I have a feeling they also changed some of the lyrics. Truth to tell, I do not know how much. The words always sounded gibberish to me.

But who cares? Not the Belle Stars, whose 1983 version made the Rain Man soundtrack. Not Cyndi Lauper who came next. Or the Grateful Dead, Dr. John, Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band, Captain Jack, Zap Mama, Natasha England and others who found it difficult to ignore the inviting rhythm of the song. By the time Wellington sang it with Small Jam, it had become Iko Iko My Bestie. The words are still gibberish to me.

But again, who cares? A hit song is a hit song no matter how old it is or what the language is. And in this era where social media provides equal opportunities to any song. A little bit of fun on Tik Tok can result in the big time for any song, or anybody for that matter. Iko Iko and Tik Tok have turned Justin Wellington into a star.

Here now as per Pop Buzz are the other stars of the year so far on Tik Tok: Please Don’t Go by Mike Posner; FACK by Eminem; Yucky Bucky Fruitcake by Iamdoechili; Hope by Twista featuring Faith Evans; De?ja? vu by Olivia Rodrigo; Praying by Keshia; Ghost Town by Chloe George; Bongo (Cha Cha Cha) by Catrina Valente; WAP (Wings and Pizza) by Lardi B; Whatta Man by Salt ‘N; Pepa; Waking Up in the Morning by Gia Gudice; Day ‘n’ Night by Kid Cudi; and Agatha All Along by Agatha Harkness. Which one is the music of your video?

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