Oct 31, 2011

Fela Kuti - Army Arrangement (1984)

In November 1984, Kuti was sentenced to two concurrent five-year prison sentences on a charge of attempting to smuggle some £1,500 out of Nigeria on a flight to New York. The charge was blatantly concocted (among other abuses of process, the currency declaration form Kuti had completed at Lagos airport was "lost" by the police), and a year later he was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He was released after serving 20 months.

When Kuti was jailed, Army Arrangement was awaiting release by Paris-based Celluloid Records, who had made a deal to rerelease some of his back catalogue along with the new album. Believing, misguidedly, that the tapes needed invasive attention, Celluloid first asked Dennis Bovell to do a remix. Because Bovell was unavailable immediately, Celluloid house producer Bill Laswell was drafted in. Laswell was dismissive of the album, scrubbed all Kuti's solos, added synthesized percussion, speeded it up and brought in Bernie Worrell and Sly Dunbar to overdub new keyboard and drum parts. Friends smuggled a tape of the Celluloid album into jail for Kuti to hear. "Listening to it was worse than being in prison," he said later.

Fortunately, the original version of Army Arrangement survived, and that's the one presented here. The lyric is astonishingly brave, even by Kuti's standards, accusing Nigeria's recently retired president, General Obasanjo, still an extremely powerful man (he later returned as president), of complicity in the disappearance of millions of US dollars generated by the export of oil.

Read the full article at allaboutjazz!


Army Arrangement, originally released in 1985, was comprised entirely of a half-hour track of the same name. Just because it's twice as long as Fela's usual songs doesn't mean it's twice as good. It's an average Fela recording, though the chanting chorus vocals come in earlier than they do on most of his pieces. The lyrics are among his most critical of the Nigerian military and government, focusing on the troubled period when the country returned to civilian rule at the end of the 1970s. Note that the MCA reissue of Army Arrangement is different from other releases with the same title, consisting of two tracks: a half-hour version of "Army Arrangement" and the previously unreleased, half-hour original version of "Government Chicken Boy." Musically, "Government Chicken Boy" is a little more interesting than "Army Arrangement," with ominous teams of horns and wordless chants leading into the usual trades of solos, and then a characteristic Fela lyric about obedient followers of authority.

Richie Unterberger


For collectors like me, it is great to finally have the original version of "Army Arrangement" available on CD. The early 80s release of "Army Arrangement" was re-mixed by Bill Laswell in the hope of finally getting Fela some cross-over success. What they got instead was a syrupy, poppy, disco-y, keyboard infused piece of garbage that Fela fans hated and the un-indoctrinated ignored. Here we finally get the full 30-minute "Army Arrangement" jam in its original glory, along with a five-times longer account of "Government Chicken Boy" (29:15 here but only 5:47 on the original Celluloid release!). Despite this much improved mix, most of Fela's material with Egypt 80 is still too keyboard driven for my tastes, and the biggest reason for my withholding a fifth star. Of course, all of the Fela reissues are really indispensable, and you should get them while you can.

Michael B. Richman


Army arrangement is the most funkiest African song that I have ever listened to, it's so funky that it could strip off the paint on your bedroom wall!

Fela was a musical legend, an innovator, a pan-africanist at heart & above all a government critique. Fela did not engage in praise music unlike other Nigerian musicians, social commentary was his forte.

At the time of release of this album, Fela was serving a prison sentence on a trumped-up currency charge. On the cover of this album Fela engages in his famous power salute with the caption "But sha, I still dey, there shall be no compromise", an indication that he would not buckle under any pressure whatsoever.

Army arrangement & Power show rank as my two favourite Fela songs, the rhythm & horn input on Army arrangement are both very heavy & hypnotic. It was one of the tunes used to open Fela's show at his most famous shrine in Lagos.

Government chicken boy is a more restrained track, although it is not the highlight on this album, it complements a few beers & some pepper stew, if you catch my drift (Nigerians would mostly understand this).

I urge you to buy this album & enjoy this true masterpiece! Definitely worth the 5 stars! Very special indeed...



Army Arrangement (1984)

Army Arrangement

Army Arrangement is about Nigeria’s attempt at ‘democracy’ in 1979 after more than a decade of military rule. In 1970, Nigeria emerged from a three-year Biafra civil war with the largest standing army in black Africa, no financial debts – careering along on at least two million barrels of sulphur-low oil, pumped daily into the world market. With such revenue invested prudently in the Nigerian economy, there should be no reason for any Nigerian to live below the poverty line. However, with persistent scandals of corruption as the standard in every administration since independence, the army has lost all credibility to effect any change in the system. Especially since the arrival of the military in the political arena created the illusion of a peaceful ‘democratic’ participation in government. With the daily running of government carried out by civilians who reported to military bosses, Fela, I this song, calls on the people to be bold enough to criticize the government, because fear of the man with the gun would not put an end to the sufferings of the masses, who eventually pay for government mismanagement. He points to the foreign exchange scandal that prompted the military regime to arrest highly placed Nigerians. Most of them were tried and sentenced to jail terms ranging from five to fifteen years. But with the change from military to civil rule, most of the jailed socialites were released by the new administrations – a preview organized by the departing military regime that Fela accuses. Turning to the election issue and how the military manipulated the country by eliminating young political movements like The Movement Of The People (MOP) calling for a change in the system. Fela points to the fact that the military handed power to the same elite politicians who prompted the army to seize power earlier. He concludes that it is an arrangement dating from the ex-colonial rulers, who put the military in place to do their dirty work, and calls the whole political maneuver Army Arrangement

Government Chicken Boy

Government chicken boy are what you could call ‘establishment boys’- believers of the establishment and the system. Fela compares them with the chicken, crowing at dawn like an alarm clock, waking people for the day’s job ahead. He sings: ‘…su! su! we dey chase chicken him dey run! Him go try to fly! Him go land with him mouth! Him mouth go dey drag for ground! Gerere! Gerere….!’. Government Chicken boy, like the chicken, could be chased away from the grain at will an recalled back to share the same grain again. Like tools of the system, they can be dispensed with at will. Fela says if you ask him where to find ‘government chicken boy’ – the answer is in government ministries and establishments, civil servants, police, army, commissioner, minister, and the president. The news media he also calls ‘government chicken boys’ because of the way they depend on Western sources of information. He also criticizes their organization structures and ethic – which he regards as not just a carbon copy of Western news media, but a poor imitation of them. Finally, Fela says that among these ‘government chicken boys’, you find some good people and bad people. For the good people, it is a big fight ‘na wahala’ for them to stay up-right and give good advice, but for the bad people have a disease called ‘shaky-shaky’. They are always trying to please the master even if they know he is doing the wrong thing – like chicken, they shake and say yes to everything.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu

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