Justin goes globalThursday, August 19, 2021
BY KEVIN JACKSON
PAPUA New Guineanborn singer Justin Wellington has struck gold with his cover of the classic Iko Iko. His reggae interpretation, which also features dancehall artiste Small Jam from the Solomon Islands, took off earlier this year after it went viral on social media platform TikTok.
In an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer, Wellington, who now resides in Australia, said he was drawn to reggae from an early age.
“Reggae and island-based genres of music are my favourite and always my genres of choice for my recordings,” said Wellington, who lists Lucky Dube, Toots and the Maytals, and Bob Marley as his inspiration.
Iko Iko, under the original title Jock-A-Mo, was written and released in 1953 as a single by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford and his Cane Cutters, but it failed to make the charts.
The 1960s girl group, The Dixie Cups, took their version to 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965, while Dr John hit 71 in 1972 with his version.
British girl group Belle Stars covered the song in 1982, but it wasn’t until in 1989 that their version reached 14 in America.
Released in 2017, Wellington’s version of Iko Iko was recently picked up by American label RCA Records after it went viral on social media.
“I’ve loved the song since I was a kid. The versions that I loved in my childhood were those by the Dixie Cups and Belle Stars,” he told the Observer.
“My version of Iko Iko (subtitled My Bestie) was released in 2017, and it was actually arranged and produced by several different people, including myself as well as DJ Liamz,” Wellington continued.
The singer shared the difference between his version and the other covers.
“It has a powerful island energy to it that people just love. But also, I believe that there has always been an unmistakable spirit and energy inherent within Iko Iko, irrespective of which version, that people have loved since the beginning. It’s a timeless tune,” he said.
Since Sony Music (parent company to RCA Records) took over the promotion of Iko Iko (My Bestie), the song has blown up internationally.
It has made the top 10 in countries such as Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, and Sweden.
It has been certified gold in Italy. Iko Iko (My Bestie) is currently number 75 (up from 87) on the Billboard Global 200 chart and number 42 (up from 44) on Billboard’s Global Excluding the US chart.
“I have always wanted to pursue music and achieve significant success. For the most, my work has been inspired by other artistes and my life experiences,” said Wellington, adding his long-term goal is to be able to share happiness through his music.