Following is an interview I conducted with Una Morgan of the roots reggae band Morgan Heritage, focusing on women in reggae. The interview took place in Sacramento, California on February 25, 2002.
Francesca: It appears the reggae music industry is more influenced by men than women. As a female performer, do you feel that you are given as much credibility and respect as your brothers both within the family and the music industry?
Una: Well, I feel I am given a lot of opportunity because I am a reserved person. When Una is on stage I become a lot freer… that’s the time when my vessel is really taken over by the spirit. Whatever you see come out, that is what the spirit allows and nobody, be it brother, father or sister, can put a hindrance on that. So, in that way, I’m totally and will always be free.
Morgan Heritage is not just a couple of singers and a band. We are a movement. We are a family that the Most High has anointed with the blessing of music and He continues to bless us daily with the ability to create music. And it’s like wine, you know? The older it gets, the richer it becomes, the more poignant it gets, the stronger it gets. So, a lot of people say “Well, why don’t you sing the lead?” I mean, if we were supposed to give everything away, there would be nothing to have for the future. Every time you hear a new Morgan Heritage record there is something different, something new, so it takes time, you don’t want to let everything go at one time. That’s what it is for Morgan Heritage and for Una Morgan as an individual within Morgan Heritage. In no way, shape or form do I feel like I’m hindered and if I ever do, we have other avenues and ways to express ourselves–If this song doesn’t fit Morgan Heritage, it might fit LMS, you know? So, I will always be able to let my creative freedom flow.
Within the family, I am one of the people in the front with my dad that takes care of the group’s business so I have a lot on my plate when it comes to that because within the family we are a business-oriented family. We have our own record company, we have our own management team and our own production company. And within that infrastructure, each one of us has our own portfolio which we head up. For instance, Lukes, the guitar player, is the engineer. He’s also the technically minded one within the family, very computer savvy. Anything that has to do with technology, he’s there. Mr. Mojo is a programmer and producer. Gramps is the musical director. He’s the vocal arranger. You know, I happen to be the president of the record company and I help my dad in managing the group. So, each one of us has our own portfolio that we pray to God daily for his guidance and his wisdom that we can do it to the fullest.
Francesca: So, in terms of gender, each person is recognized equally as having a unique and valued position.
Una: Yes, within our family. However, I do see where one might say reggae music is more dominated by the male. But I think that in the world you generally have a lot of women that would rather be homemakers… God knows why she’s a homemaker. God knows why he chose Una to be who she is and able to still have a family at the same time. So, every woman is blessed differently with what their purpose is and it is for that woman to find that purpose; whether they are going to be earth and moon, or if they are just going to be moon or if they’re just going to be earth. By that I mean the earth is what nurtures, the earth is what brings forth life. The moon then reflects the sun. If there is no sun, we have nothing to reflect. The sun in our lives represents the man. The woman represents the earth. So once you find yourself within those natural wonders of the world today, you then find yourself fulfilling your purpose and becoming more self aware of what your purpose is on earth and in harmony with your role.
Francesca: Do you believe there are any unique challenges within the music industry for women artists, compared to your brothers and other male performers?
Una: Well, first of all, we are mothers. Being a mother on the road is probably the hardest thing that we can face as mothers because you have to be out there singing and playing, whatever you do, knowing that you have a nanny taking care of your children. Sometimes their fathers can’t be there because they have to be out there working too so we have nannies raising up our children. You know that personally, it is really hard because I have three beautiful children. I mean it comes to a certain point where you have to say something has to change, something has to give… Again it comes back to you knowing what fits your lifestyle the best.
There are serious challenges and concerns for women. We go through our hormonal changes every month. You have that to deal with. Just guys being men…(laughs). The good thing for me is that I’m so protected by my brothers if a guy wanted to approach me it would be so hard for them so that is a comfort to me because I can be Una and not have to worry about somebody rubbing me the wrong way. I always have that protection.
Francesca: You talked about being a mother on the road…
Una: Yes, daily I pray to God to strengthen me and to keep my children in his bosom as he keeps father Abraham. You know, to comfort their minds and to comfort their souls and to help them to understand that mommy is out there doing work that will benefit them and their children to come. I pray that He opens their little minds and their little hearts and I believe that the good Lord will answer my prayers.
Francesca: Have there been any internal conflicts for you between being a strong and independent woman and living within Rastafari?
Una: Well, in Rastafari the first step is knowing yourself. One knows themselves and knows why one was put on earth to live… Home is the only place, but while I am here, I have works to do. So, I have to know what that work is as a Rasta woman. When I know and find out and figure out and get through all the cobwebs that we have to get through to be comfortable in one’s self, then you can say there will never be boundaries because God is a free spirit. He is not bound by anything. So by no religion, no nothing… once you believe and know that God is God you worship in spirit and in truth.
Francesca: And when you do that, and your know your role and you know God, no one can take your power.
Una: No way. No one can take your power because He is all that I am and the Father is in me as I am in the Father.
Francesca: At what age did you learn to play keyboards? Was that your first instrument or was it vocals?
Una: Vocals was the first. When Morgan Heritage first started, it was my sister, by the name of Takilot, who is now working in Massachusetts, and me. But when we first started it was her and I and we were only on vocals. When Sheila E came out, I said, “Wow, I like what she does! I’m going to play an instrument.” That’s where it just came and my brother Jeff who was the lead guitar player of the group at that time said, “Mom, why don’t you play keyboards, you should play piano like Patrice Rushen.” (laughs) I said, “You know what? Okay, I’m going to play that.” From there I started to study piano. I’ve gotten formal lessons and a lot of it is self-taught but I really started playing keyboards from maybe when I was about fourteen. The group started when I was about eleven so it was three or four years later.
Francesca: Did you naturally want to be part of the group?
Una: Yeah, the group was always there because our father saw the talent in us from when we were really young and he knew that I was going to be singer and Gramps was going to be a singer and Lukes would play guitar and Mr. Mojo started when he was really young. But growing up in school we were always put in school. Daddy made sure we had our education and going through that I had aspirations of being a lawyer. My dad’s lawyer, Kendall Minter, inspired me in a lot of different ways so after high school I continued on to college, John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC. So, you know, that was a little dream of mine also. When I was going to school I liked to talk a lot and make my point…(laughs).
Francesca: Do you sense a difference, as a woman in reggae, in the way you are received and respected by various countries and cultures where you perform?
Una: Globally, it’s looked at as Royal Empress. Someone in reggae and even in gospel music (reggae music is the rastaman’s gospel music), looks upon a woman in music like she’s a queen. It’s a good thing but we have our bad days too. You know you can’t always be a queen everyday, you know we’re human (laughs). Some days you feel like a real you-know-what but that’s just life as being, a human being. Globally, that is how people look at you, as Mother Earth. You are for the people, you are warm and loving and you know that because of the music we are in, we think about humanity. It’s an okay assumption to consider because all the women I know in reggae are very beautiful minded women–Sister Judy Mowatt, Sister Marcia Griffiths, Sister Carol–these are women that I look to that have paved the way for me and I will constantly big them up in everything… and Sister Rita Marley… they really kept it going strong for women in reggae today.
Francesca: It appears that there are few new female reggae artists singing strictly roots. Why do you think this is?
Una: There’s a lot of things that lead up to that. A lot of them are doing background singing for the artists. Maybe some of them… I really can’t say because I see a lot of the women in reggae as background singers. You have Fiona that’s doing well. There haven’t been a lot that have really come forward to say I’m going to be a strong lead vocalist for myself, I want to be heard. Maybe they haven’t gotten to that stage yet in their professional career. Maybe… it is probably a lot of things. I really can’t give an honest answer or opinion to that because I’ve never been in that position. I’ve always been in a medium where I am part of a group. You know that individuality doesn’t really need to come out so much, it’s more of a oneness for me.
Francesca: Do you feel if any of the female backup singers decided to come forward they would be embraced?
Una: I think so because reggae music needs to see some fresh new faces. You know, every other musical genre has it. Look what India.Arie has been doing. Look at what Erykah Badu did for the industry. So when they see women of this stature, they accept it. It’s not a Britney Spears or a Destiny’s Child. They do accept it because they know that is what a woman is supposed to emulate. I think new women faces in reggae will definitely be accepted because there are producers who want to work with the female voices.
Francesca: Do you have any plans to collaborate with any other female artists?
Una: Well, we are definitely making plans now with a French group by the name of Les Nubians. They have kind of broken into the neo-soul market in America, the same market where Erica, Jill Scott,etc… But they are a French reggae group–two sisters as a matter of fact–and they are huge in France. They are big fans of Morgan Heritage so we are actually going to be doing some collaborations with them in April. I really look forward to that.
Francesca: March is Women’s History Month in the U.S. This recognition grew out of International Women’s Day, March 8th. Given the status of women in many parts of the world, and especially with all the images we’ve recently seen in the media, particularly in Afghanistan, if you had one wish for all women, what would it be?
Una: Find God for yourself–the Spirit is the omnipotent Spirit of the world, the omnipresent energy that rules man and woman. Find that space within you and through that connection all tribulations that will come to you, as woman, as flesh… That is the only source of energy that can keep us alive. The only source that keeps us in the right space where we need to be to overcome the tribulations of life.