Roots and Culture lives on. This is extremely evident looking into the wide eyes of Peter Morgan, lead vocalist for the remarkably talented, R&B-influenced Reggae band, Morgan Heritage. Under the auspices of their father, Denroy Morgan, the youthful siblings are now staring directly into fame’s bright light. Having released a new album, “Don’t Haffi Dread”, and riding on the success of the critically acclaimed “Liberation” compilation, Morgan Heritage is the hottest young group in Reggae.
As five of their father’s 29 children, the musicians grew up in a Jamaican household in New York, and were educated in Western Massachusetts, but music was always their focus. Peter (24), the designated spokesperson for the band, is the lead vocalist and has already been compared to Garnett Silk in his singing style. Roy Morgan, a.k.a. Gramps, (25) is the keyboardist and vocalist, whose voice has an uncanny resemblance to that of Dennis Brown. On rhythm guitar is Lukes (23) and on drums, Mr. Mojo (21). Una Morgan (26) is the female vocalist on maternity leave this summer.
Morgan Heritage’s performance at the 1999 Sierra Nevada World Music Festival was a highlight, as their strong, soulful voices and inspiring lyrics energized the crowd and got everyone dancing. They are in extremely high demand; this summer alone they performed at the Special Olympics (July 1), went on a European tour, and played at Sumfest (Jamaica ’99).
After their set on July 19, 1999, Morgan Heritage held a press conference and I had the opportunity of speaking to Gramps and Peter.
Q: Let’s start out with your background. I know that your father played a large role in your musical upbringing. What made his presence so special for you?
Peter: Growing up, our father was the backbone of everything we ever did in music. He taught us how, when we are singing, to [enunciate] the words so the people can understand. He used to tell us, “You can already sing, so don’t worry about styling and melodies. Deliver the words so people can understand.” Bob Marley was one of the greatest in reggae music for that. No one has to say, “What did Bob Marley say?” A lot of our brothers and sisters today don’t really find importance in [pronouncing] the words so that the people can understand the message.
[Our father also taught us to] always make sure that our music touches the soul. We shouldn’t just produce the music where you can say, “Yes, these are good musicians.” Even if it’s only something simple, it should touch the heart of everyone. There are a lot of small things that he instilled in us that we carry with us throughout our life.
Q: A few years ago, you went to Jamaica to do some recording. What was that like?
Peter: It was like going back home. We were always hearing about the experience of recording in Jamaica and recording with the highly acclaimed producers that were down there. Going down there and experiencing it for ourselves was more than we expected. It was just a blessing for us.
Q: Jamaicans often look unfavorably on musicians from abroad, but you’ve been widely accepted. How did you come to achieve your success in Jamaica?
Peter: I think our success was due to the fact that we didn’t keep ourselves away from the people. We became a part of the people and many of them, if they didn’t know that we were from America, thought that we were born and raised in Jamaica because we fit in. It was as if we were born and bred there because our parents made sure that the Jamaican culture was the strongest in our home. They raised us like we were living in Jamaica, so going to Jamaica was just like going home and the people accepted us that way.
Q: Your songs have such positive messages about unity and togetherness. If someone said to you, “Look. We’re not all the same and we’re not all going to love each other.” How would you respond?
Peter: Every man is entitled to his own choice and destiny. We know that everyone is not alike and that it’s hard for everyone to love one another, but it’s a hope that we have in our hearts that someday it can come to that. Our forefathers hoped for the same thing. It’s just a tradition that we’re carrying on. Sometimes it’s best to just hold a positive energy, a positive vibe towards a better future. Just hope for the best! We know that our songs are not going to change the world in a day. But we hope that they will inspire people to live a better life.
The message [of peace, love and unity] in our music will remain the same. We are very race conscious as Black people and we defend our race 100%–but we also have to defend humanity because humanity involves all people.
Q: What was the idea behind “Don’t Haffi Dread”?
Peter: Just what it says, “Don’t haffi dread to be Rasta.” It is not a color thing. It is not a dreadlocks thing. It is a divine conception of the heart. Everybody can see that Morgan Heritage are dreadlocked Rastafarians. We defend what we know: the righteousness of Rastafari through Christianity. Christianity through Ethiopia and forward. So it is not dreadlocks that make you a Rastaman-it is what’s in your heart. So that’s the message.
Q: Has there been some controversy in Jamaica over that tune?
Peter: There’s controversy everywhere! And I say that the only thing that causes such a great controversy is the truth. Because even Haile Selassie himself today is causing a great controversy amongst all men–because some say, “He is not the King of Kings”. But we know the truth, so the controversy is already there.
Q: You worked with Bobby “Digital” on this latest album. What has that been like?
Peter: Working with Bobby Digital is like working with our brother and it’s just a whole family vibes. It’s not like working with a producer and you’re the artist. Sometimes we go to the studio, and we don’t even work! We hang out and cook some fish and feel nice. Just warm vibes and that’s the energy that exists amongst Morgan Heritage and Bobby Digital. It’s just like brother to brother.
Q: Will you continue to work with him?
Peter: Yes man. As long as he’s in music and we’re in music, we’ll be working together.
Gramps: Bobby Digital and Morgan Heritage are a union that has been blessed by the Almighty Jah. All praises go unto Him because when we first got to Jamaica, music was the last thing on our minds. When we moved to Jamaica from New York, our father wanted to relax, like a retirement. And we said, “We’re coming with you, Daddy! You ain’t leaving us!” And we went to Jamaica and before you know it, we started doing a little music. The union with Bobby Digital and also with King Jammy’s [studio] is blessed. Home is with Bobby Digital and we give thanks to him and may God continue to strengthen him and bless him and his family.
Q: You were signed to MCA after Sunsplash ’92 and now you are working with VP Records in America and Jetstar in England. What happened with MCA that led to your current alliance with VP/Jetstar?
Peter: MCA didn’t know what to do with our music, how to market it. They wanted pop music from us and we weren’t comfortable doing that, but we did it because it was their money, it was their company and we were signed to them. So the politics of the music business are that you have to go with what the company wants. After two years with them, we asked for a release because it wasn’t going anywhere. We didn’t want to be signed to MCA and just be sitting on the shelf. We decided to go back to Jamaica and work with Bobby Digital and the other producers. Through that, the albums were given to Jetstar and VP. We give thanks to VP and Jetstar for really exposing us to an audience that really loves the type of music that Morgan Heritage is doing. And we just pray that all things will be blessed in the future.
Q: The “Mount Zion Medley” with Capleton, Bushman, Ras Shiloh is getting a lot of radio play. How did that come together?
Peter: Everyone did an individual song on the track and when we were in mastering, the idea just came up to edit the songs together and that’s what we did. Every song that is in that medley is a song by itself. It was just a vibe that came down in the mastering session. We just started cutting up the songs and putting them together and it just happened.
Q: Are there going to be any more albums like the “Liberation” album?
Peter: Yeah man! We just completed Volume 2 with Capleton, Buju Banton, Toots, Denroy Morgan, Jah Cure, Anthony B. and we hope that the people love it like they loved the first one. So you can look for a lot more of that coming in the future because it’s a unity amongst us in the younger generation. We have to work together to keep it alive and deliver the message.
Q: Any thoughts about incorporating the new dancehall rhythms into your music?
Peter: Well that is for Bounty Killer, Beenie Man and Mr. Vegas and them. We give thanks to dancehall music because it has helped expose Reggae music to Black Americans. We’ve known for a long time, even in Bob Marley’s day, Black Americans didn’t really accept Reggae music because they looked at Jamaicans in a derogatory way. We get a lot of fight from Black Americans. The White Americans always seem to love Roots and Culture. If it weren’t for the white audience, Roots and Culture would probably be dead today, so we give thanks to them. We give thanks to those [dancehall] artists and those that promote that music, but we will promote Roots and Culture-Rastafari music-and keep this segment of the music alive ’cause if we don’t do it, it will die. Selassie I.
Q: Do you listen to dancehall?
Peter: Yeah man. Mostly what we listen to is Capleton and Sizzla. One or two sounds from Beenie Man will catch us, because them blessed that way. That’s their gift and we support them because everyone has a different purpose within the music.
Q: You did a track on Luciano’s “Sweep Over My Soul” album. Have you known him for a long time?
Peter: We’ve known Luciano for a couple of years now. We’ve always talked about doing a song together. Actually, we recorded three songs together during the time we did that one song. But the other two, they’re there and soon the public will hear about it. Even the other day, he recorded a song for us on a new track that we have. Luciano’s our good brethren: we work together on the music and we support each other. We’ll probably be doing more of that in the future too.
Q: You have a similar vibe: bringing a positive message, bringing Jah’s message…
Gramps: It’s one work, you know. It’s one God. It’s one Aim and one Destiny. It’s one message-one eternal message. We just give thanks and praises because you have a man like Luciano. These words are not words you haven’t heard before. It’s just from different messengers-a second generation bringing the word to you again. It has to pass on from generation to generation. The words are the true treasures of life, not cars and houses (because all those things can be destroyed), but the words from my mouth can pass on from flesh to flesh and live through flesh.
Q: It’s truly great to have heard you here at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival.
Peter: Thank you very much for having us. Jah Bless.
Gramps: Jah Bless.