mojo morganIt had been a week of a rare heat wave in the Bay Area and San Francisco was sizzling in 100-degree temperatures. Rather than bear the heat of Slim’s Nightclub in San Francisco, I chose instead to drive down the California coast the following day to catch Morgan Heritage at Palookaville in Santa Cruz.

peter morganIt’s only 100 miles away, but Santa Cruz is a welcome respite from the rat race of the City. This laid back seaside town’s reputation as mecca of alternative living and healing has always treasured its roots culture and embraced reggae music. Palookaville is a wonderful place to see a show: it is a comfortable size, has a relaxed atmosphere and its shows are all-ages (over 21 can go upstairs to the balcony bar). The onsite Kismet Café serves up healthy food with a couple of tables lining the perimeter of the room, but the majority of the space is filled by a large wooden floor, perfect for dancing. The stage is close to the audience and the sound system and mix is top-notch. Palookaville is run by Michael Horne, whose avid interest in world music and 20 years of music business experience led him to open his own venue in 1994. The club showcases a wide range of music-world music, reggae, hip-hop, punk and trance-and is dedicated to serving the community and pricing its tickets affordably.

peter morganWhen I checked into my hotel, I ran into Denroy Morgan, father to the clan of 30 Morgan children, some of whom comprise the bands Morgan Heritage as well as LMS (a trio of the more dancehall-oriented Morgan siblings), scheduled to open that night’s show. Denroy was in good spirits, in spite of the fact that they had been on the road supporting Morgan Heritage’s “More Teachings” and LMS’s “Zion Gate” [VP Records] releases since February, and the tour had no end in sight.

That night at Palookaville, Morgan Heritage came onstage after an opening set by local reggae group Groundation and launched into an inspirational set of roots and culture reggae. Dressed in orange and black camouflage outfits, the five Morgan siblings-lead singer Peter, keyboardists/vocalists Una and Roy “Gramps” Morgan, guitarist “Lukes” (Nakhamya), and percussionist “Mr. Mojo” (Memmalatel) Morgan (plus a top-notch rhythm section)-performed a passionate set of modern roots reggae, with very little between-song banter. Their music speaks for itself.

una morganAs local MC Allen “Rocky” Bailey remarked about their San Francisco performance the previous night, “What a show! You just have to listen and hear the power of the message in their music.” They began with “Trodding Jah Road,” followed by “Rise Up” and other melodic gems. They then played 10 songs non-stop, a harmonious and spiritual tribute to unity and their faith in Rastafari and the Emperor Haile Selassie. They drew material from “More Teachings” as well as their prior releases, “Don’t Haffi Dread” and “Morgan Heritage: Family & Friends.”

“Jah Seed,” with an a cappella introduction by Peter, was a standout. Peter then explained the message of the “More Teachings” CD stating: “It’s all about uplifting the consciousness of humanity, not trying to dictate how people should live but to help them to see clearly what is happening before our eyes. And with the love of Jah we learn that we must help each other. Humanity-race has no boundaries, only love of Jah. The love of Jah is universal; it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Hispanic, Indian, whatever, if you know Jah, and you feel Jah, then the love of Jah is with you. And this love of Jah will help us to know that we must help each other. The strong help the weak-you see that you help those who are in need. So this message is for all humanity. This one is called “Helping Hand” and I hope you overstand these words.” Gramps then lead Peter’s and Una’s gorgeous harmonies in another standout song of praise and positivity.

“What We Need Is Love” featured rapping by brother Mr. Mojo, who also added his style to the “Mount Zion Medley.” Unfortunately, the group LMS did not perform, but LMS member Laza joined his siblings to perform the Capleton part of “Mount Zion” in an energetic sing-jay style, to the delight of the crowd. “Kebra and the Fetha,” also featuring Laza, was a tour de force, with the deep voice of Gramps asking: “Do you hear, Santa Cruz? Like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon, we are the modern-day patriots standing firm like Mount Zion. Give us the glory of the King of Kings. Give every knowledge, give every truth” Their message was warmly received by the Palookaville crowd.

“Reggae Bring Back Love” concluded their set of more than 20 songs. Before their encore, Peter humbly thanked the audience for their support over the years, saying: “This music is not just for us, it’s for all of you. Give yourselves a nice round of applause, Santa Cruz, and go tell the world that you heard it from the family. I will say this without vanity, tell all humanity, that the message is you ‘Don’t Haffi Dread to be Rasta’.” As they sang their encore, father Denroy joined his children onstage. Dressed in a royal purple and yellow jogging suit, holding a lighter on high, he looked every inch the proud papa.

Following their West Coast tour dates, Morgan Heritage journeyed on the European leg of their tour. They then returned to the U.S. to join the Warp Tour for the summer of 2001, hoping to spread their roots/reggae message to rock ‘n’ roll crowds at 43 dates in locations throughout North America.