Hey, now! These words are familiar, and get our attention. But what about ‘Iko Iko” and “Jock-A-Mo”?
What the heck DO they mean?
It doesn’t matter what they mean. It’s a fun song inspired by the taunting chants of New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians. They evolved from masked street thugs from Black neighborhoods, to groups of celebrating Mardi Gras dancers, sporting elaborate and outrageous costumes.
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Back Talk with James “Sugar Boy” Crawford
By Jeff Hannusch
Whether you call it “Jock-A-Mo” or Chock-A-Mo” or “Iko-Iko,” it’s one of the greatest of all New Orleans Carnival songs. James “Sugar Boy” Crawford recorded the original version in 1953.
From the Offbeat interview with Crawford:
How did you construct “Jock-A-Mo?”
It came from two Indian chants that I put music to. “Iko Iko” was like a victory chant that the Indians would shout. “Jock-A-Mo” was a chant that was called when the Indians went into battle. I just put them together and made a song out of them. Really it was just like “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” That was a phrase everybody in New Orleans used. Lloyd Price just added music to it and it became a hit. I was just trying to write a catchy song. Leonard Chess [president of Chess & Checker Records, then Sugar Boy’s label] contacted me and arranged for me to go to Cosimo’s [J & M Studio] and record it. That was in [November] 1953.
Listeners wonder what “Jock-A-Mo” means. Some music scholars say it translates in Mardi Gras Indian lingo as “Kiss my ass,” and I’ve read where some think Jock-A-Mo was a court jester. What does it mean?
I really don’t know (laughs). It wasn’t my idea to call the song “Jock-A-Mo”—Leonard Chess did that. If you listen to the song, I’m singing C-H-O-C-K, as in Chockamo. Not J-O-C-K, as in Jock-A-Mo. When Leonard listened to the session in Chicago, he thought I said “Jock-A-Mo.” When I saw the record for the first time I said, “That’s not the title, it’s ‘Chock-A-Mo’.”
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