|Gramps Morgan, keyboard player and dynamic vocalist of Morgan Heritage, will be releasing his solo CD "Two Sides of My Heart - Volume1" in July 2009. He made a stop in Sacramento, California in late May to promote the CD and sat down with Francesca D'Onofrio to discuss this and other projects.|
Francesca: Good evening Gramps. You've been very busy with a number of projects and I'd like to first talk about Morgan Heritage's recent tour of Africa to promote Mission in Progress. What countries did you visit and what are some of your lasting impressions from the tour?
Gramps: Africa was overwhelming. We also created a documentary that will be released later on this year called "Africa is Calling" which will show the power of reggae music. We played in Gambia and we played in Senegal. The show that we did in Senegal was scheduled to be done. We got 37,000 people in the stadium and there were about 7,000 people outside the gate. By the time people realized that we really did come to Senegal they were like they're really here, because for so many years people had said we're coming and we didn't come. So people that live so far from the city, by the time they realized we were there it was like oh my god, they really came, so we're now making plans to go back to Gambia the end of June 2009 for a return.
When we went to Senegal on that trip, Gambia was not in the schedule at all. The President of the country heard that we were there and the kids were going absolutely beserk, like they demanded to their President that Morgan Heritage needed to come over to Gambia. We were in our hotel one day and we saw a delegate of men come to our hotel and we thought it was the police because we were smoking ganja in the hotel or something strange. And when we got into the hotel and seen these men we realized that they were from the office of President Jammeh. So these officials come to our hotel. When we started to talk to these people they said the President wanted us to come to their country. We said how are we going to come to your country, it will be next to impossible. They said whatever it takes we need this for the children of Gambia, the youths over there are dying to see you. We said well we're going to have to book hotels, and we plan to fly out tomorrow and you'd have to bring us in and... long story short, in the space of less than a week we promoted the show and we had 36,000 people there. Unbelievable to see the power of Africa. When we play Africa we play stadiums on a whole other level, with military police and all, it's crazy. To see that reggae music is so loved, this was humbling.
Francesca: This was not your first tour of Africa, right?
Gramps: Yeah actually yes. Well it was the first time we've done multiple countries as big as that. Last time we did Burkina Faso and Bouake which is part of the Ivory Coast. We were just blown away. So that's one of the things that we're doing while we're doing these solo projects because there's still a demand out there for Morgan Heritage so we plan to return to Africa. When it makes sense we will still do some shows as Morgan Heritage but we won't be doing long tours, like touring the U.S. for like 6-8 weeks. You're not going to see that for the next couple of years to come. But you will see Peter performing; you will see Mr. Mojo performing. He is doing a rock album, he's trying to knock on the door of rock music, and actually punk rock mixed in there as well and Una is in the studio right now. Lukes is not a singer so what he's doing is he's managing Lutan Fyah and doing his bookings. His booking agency is called Prestige Artists Entertainment. All that information and all the links you can find on my website which is grampsmorgan.com. So it's been a really busy time but Africa is unbelievable.
Francesca: Which country gave the group the most enthusiastic reception?
Gramps: It's very debatable. Even the Gambians and the Senegalians each say we love reggae more; Gambians say no we love it more, Senegal say Senegal is reggae country and so on. Gambia is called little Jamaica in Africa. When you go there you will see very, very strong similarities to Jamaica. Yes, it's amazing.
Francesca: I also read that Morgan Heritage made a visit to Goree Island in Senegal. Can you describe what that was like?
Gramps: It is indescribable. It will change your life whether you are black, white, Chinese. History is history. When we went there and seen all these great men from Bill Clinton... Steele Pulse has been there, the Pope and all these delegates have been there to give respect and reverence to what has happened at Goree Island, which is a place they have there called the Door of No Return. Where slaves were shipped from to never return. Where black African families were brought there and split up. Where the father of the family was took one way, the mother took another way and raped and the child took another way to be raised as a slave. When you hear these stories and you see the pictures of people crying when they listen to these stories, how everybody is affected, I don't care how strong and tough you are when you hear these stories a tear is going to run and you see how low and the torture that they gave, it was unbelievable.
Francesca: Your new solo CD "Two Sides of My Heart" is scheduled to be released in July?
Gramps: Yes, Volume I. Because when it says Two Sides of My Heart, it means it's a double album but it's coming in two separate series. Volume 2 is going to be an R&B kind of mainstream album. It's going to be fun. When I say Two Sides of My Heart, there's a conscious lovers roots rock side and there's another side where it's just a musical expression where we're just having fun.
Francesca: Each CD represents a side of you?
Gramps: Yes, exactly. The first CD will be a roots conscious effort, what one side of Gramps is, which is a rockers, that's that vibe. And then Vol. 2 of Two Sides of My Heart will be a whole other vibe where you get a different side of Gramps. That's why it's called Two Sides of My Heart.
Francesca: So it's an expression of the whole of you?
Gramps: Exactly, exactly.
Francesca: What's the evolution of the timing behind this solo project?
Gramps: It's been a plan of my father's for a very, very long time. I would say about 12 years that we had seen alright we're going to plan this thing. But since the conception of the group my father has said this is a talented group; that a group like this with so many diversities everybody has a different sound and he said one day I envision that we're going to spread out and everybody do solo projects.
Francesca: And each one felt ready at this time?
Gramps: Yes, after we reached ten albums and we did Mission In Progress. Part of the mission is to continue to spread and capture the youths because today you find that musically the kids are into not conscious lyrics, they're more into the beat and into a lot of bling culture. They're not really into a certain consciousness. So we have taken it upon our shoulders to kind of reach out to the youths and highlight that there are youths out there that listen to roots consciousness; there are kids out there that are interested. So that is Morgan Heritage's mission to continue to reach out to the youths.
By us doing these projects, you'll find Mojo is doing a kind of punk rock album, which will cater to a Green Day audience or a Blink 182 or 311 or Sublime; that is what Mojo is doing. So you'll find he just released an EP and it's for a totally different audience. If you're into reggae you probably don't even know that it's out because it is to a whole other market. Me, come July 7th, you get Two Sides of My Heart, Vol. 1, which will be to the reggae community. Peter is releasing singles and laying the foundation and he's going to go more dancehall and R&B market. And at the same time Morgan Heritage will be introduced to so many new and different people because some people that didn't know we exist will hear us. So it's like fun. With me doing Good Morning America, and VH1 Soul with India Arie, it was like it opened a whole other page, not just for my solo project but also for Morgan Heritage. It makes people want to rediscover Morgan Heritage so God is working very mystically. I'm really happy for my father, Denroy Morgan, because he's still here to enjoy it and see his dream come true because he envisioned me doing a solo project, he envisioned Peter doing one, Mojo, Una... so right now he's just laughing and saying "send more music, send me more stuff". I'm really, really happy for him that he's here to enjoy it.
What is does also is that Morgan Heritage fans... when we highlight these different projects it shows the different elements that make up Morgan Heritage because we've said over the years that we were born in America with Jamaican parents. We were born in America but have been living in Jamaica for 14 years now. But what it is you are going to see all the elements that make up Morgan Heritage, which is hip-hop, which is R&B, which is gospel, which is roots reggae, which is rock. And we grew up on bands like Duran Duran, Van Halen, Metallica, Air Supply, Journey, Genesis. We grew up on these bands growing up in Massachusetts, where the radio station was all Top 40. Most of the black artists that you heard at the time were like Tina Turner, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson... those are the artists that you heard. You know until we started to get a little older and discover like Big Daddy Kane, Run-DMC and started to research music ourselves and started to research the artists that we like; Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, New Edition--all these bands that at the time we said we want to sing like that so it's a melting pot of music in Morgan Heritage. So when you see these elements you get to see that's where the rock comes from, that's where the roots comes from, that's where the R&B vibes come from.
Francesca: Part of the mission is for the progression to continue then?
Gramps: Um hmm. It's going to be something when we get back together, when we get back in the studio. We have 2 albums worth of product right now for Morgan Heritage. Yes mon, yes mon, we always record because you never know…
Francesca: Where do you do the bulk of your recording?
Gramps: In Jamaica. So you find that we're really ready…everybody's solo album is not out but we can't wait to get back in because everybody has already grown so much, by doing the solo stuff everybody has grown a whole bunch already. So when we get back together it's going to be dangerous. It's going to be dangerous because everybody has become sharper, become more hungrier. It's a good thing because it's given us a chance not to lose our hunger, not to lose that fire. So God is working.
Francesca: Going back to what you were mentioning earlier about youth and lyrics, what is your opinion about the recent banning of certain slack lyrics in the JA media?
Gramps: I think it's brilliant. It's brilliant because it's going to challenge these artists--artists like Vybz Kartel. There's nothing that he can't say because he is so lyrically talented, it's unbelievable. One of the most dangerous lyricists of all time for me, Vybz Kartel. Because I've heard songs where he's spoken a positive message, songs like Emergency where he's talking about real life situation about what's going on in the ghetto, what the youths are facing in Jamaica. So it's going to challenge him to write more songs like that. It's going to help develop him as a man and not just a little ghetto youth that sprung out of the ghetto. So I think it's a beautiful thing and....
Francesca: So you're saying it will produce more creativity?
Gramps: Yeah, it's going to make artists grow because all of these people have children. So when you hear a man talking about daggering and about sexual functions and... we all love sex. I love sex. But it comes a point where you keep that in your bedroom. What goes on in your bedroom you don't put that on a record and on a stage show. If you have a certain thing that is going on; you know everything has its place. Some men like to go to the strip club but he's not going to go to the strip club on top of his home, it has its place. You know what I mean, if some people want to get freaky in their home, it has its place. You don't put that on the music where it's so accessible to young children that are not ready to deal with that yet. When it's on public radio in the middle of the day, when you're picking up your kid from pre-school and your hear jack it up and cock it up... and then you have to change the station.
Francesca: Your first single from your Two Sides of My Heart is "Wash the Tears". Why was this song chosen?
Gramps: I wanted to give praises to the Most High first and show what I am doing this project for. I want to heal people, I want to heal families. I want to help relationships to be mended and to show that men have a tender side and that we can be real and accept when we're wrong and apologize to a woman and not be egotistical and try to, you know, justify our wrong doings because men put women through a lot and there comes a time when we must man up and be righteous before God and be able to say that we messed up. Sometimes you find men are hard to express themselves you know. So I wanted to make a song where you can play it and say baby, listen to what Gramps says here...
Francesca: The lyrics seem to also carry a message about faith.
Gramps: Yes. I wanted that to be a song... I mean I ended up singing that song at a funeral, and people have used it at funerals because it's a comforting song... and it's a song of comfort now when people are losing their homes and people are going through a lot so I think it fits the time with what we're going through because it's hard. People don't have food to eat and losing their car notes and their homes and don't have health insurance, it's a serious time. So I think my music fits into a time where it can comfort a lot of people and kinda just let them know that everything is going to be o.k.
Gramps Morgan & India Arie
Gramps Morgan & Buju Banton
Francesca: You've been collaborating with several artists such as Buju recently and India Arie. Do you have plans for collaborations with other artists?
Gramps: Yes. Some other collaborations I'm working on is with Ziggy Marley, Musiq Soulchild and Kenny Rogers on Volume 2.
Francesca: Kenny Rogers?
Gramps: Yes, Kenny Rogers is one of my biggest idols vocally. I love Kenny Rogers and grew up on him. A lot of people don't realize how much country music is a big influence on Jamaica. They don't realize it because back in the days of short wave radio it would come from the Carolinas and from the south and leak over to the Caribbean on those little transistor radios because those waves can go very far, it's not like FM radio.
Francesca: Another project you're busy with is your own label Dada Son Entertainment. When you mentioned earlier that there is going to be a DVD released relative to your trip to Africa, is Dada Son producing it?
Gramps: No, that's Gedion Music. Gedion Music is the big umbrella which houses everything. Prestige which is Luke's thing, Gedion Soldiers which is Mojo's and Peter's projects which are coming out, and you have Dada Son Entertainment which is my company. So it's like a group of companies and Gedion Music is the mother ship.
Francesca: It must be exciting to be moving forward with your own label.
Gramps: It's fun, it's tiring as you have witnessed with the phone ringing and so much coordination but it is challenging and good times.
Francesca: Maybe it's kind of like being the director instead of the actor?
Gramps: Yeah, exactly (laughing).
Francesca: You recently signed artists such as Laza and Irie Love. What is next on the horizon for Dada Son Entertainment?
Gramps: I am focusing on the solo projects right now. Irie Love is in Hawaii and is building a foundation and doing some shows and getting her vibe in Hawaii. Laza is in the studio with some people in Malibu called the Bunetta's which is an Italian family and they do hip-hop. A guy named Peter Bunetta who wrote a song (singing-Nobody's Gonna Take Your Place...)
Francesca: That's an oldie...
Gramps: Exactly. He's now working with his sons who are in the music industry so Laza is working with them. And if you notice what we're doing is we're expanding the family. It's not all about my father and his children anymore. We're recruiting so that the whole pie is swelling like with the Bunetta's, India Arie and Buju. We're expanding the music family and reaching out to all kinds of people now. It is about the mission of music.
Francesca: I notice you put strong effort into marketing on the internet. Are you receiving a lot of input from your fans?
Gramps: Ahhhh, I'm thinking I haven't done enough.
Francesca: You seem to be doing a lot and working hard at it.
Gramps: Really? That's a good thing, I'm encouraged by that. I'm trying but there is much more to be done and you gotta understand that people get a lot of their news off the internet and everybody has e-mail and all these different social networks now. It makes the world smaller you know because you can reach out to somebody all the way in like Australia at the click of a finger. As opposed to 400 years ago we would have to sail there and it would take 8 months. So you find that I'm one to stress to the Caribbean community to use the internet and use it as a tool and a way to reach out to the world and expand your mind and get into different cultures. One thing that I've grown over the past 15 years; as a youth growing up as a Rasta I've grown to the point where I've seen the world and seen that God is not only with the Rasta man or the Christian, he is with everyone. You understand. And what I've come to understand is that we need to separate ourselves from the power of religion and the power of spirituality. Because God is here, there, everywhere. Not because you call him that name he listens to you alone. God does not listen to you alone or you're the only person hearing God. He listens to everyone so everyone is equal.
Francesca: If you strip most organized religions of the outer wrapping the center is the same message in all of them... to love.
Gramps: Yeah. We all have the same concept. That's what I love about that movie "Religulous". I thought that was... I loved that movie.
Francesca: Yeah. I didn't realize there was a Disneyland-like Christian theme park until I saw that movie.
Gramps: Hmmm, can you imagine? It's like they take you for a joke. It's not free; you have to pay to go in. Who's making the money off of that?
Francesca: What's getting a lot of play on your i-pod these days?
Gramps: Right now the new Green Day album. Unbelievable, they have truly carved out a space in history for themselves. There's nobody like Green Day. Billy Joe Armstrong the lead singer is very cool and that's what I'm listening to. Also India Arie's new album, Testimony Volume 2, Love and Politics. Good stuff. It was unbelievable to see her every night. I just finished touring with her for 3 weeks and I'm getting ready to do a tour with John Legend in the summer with India Arie so I'll be on that tour as well.
Francesca: Your fans are really looking forward to the release of your solo CD.
Gramps: Thank you, I'm working hard at it. Good times ahead. I love to interact and to stay in touch; it's just amazing that you can touch someone in Japan or all the way in Thailand or Peru, Columbia, Jamaica, L.A. Stay in touch with me on my website grampsmorgan.com where I'm going to be selling all my music and other stuff. You can download the music the same way you can at I-Tunes. And some things will be on my website that won't be on I-Tunes. So you can pre-order my album or t-shirt and it will be shipped out right to you so there's no need to wait for the record store release.
Francesca: Wonderful. Thank you for your music Gramps and for the chat.
Gramps: Yes. Bless. Rasta vibe...
Interview by Francesca D'Onofrio|
(Please do not reproduce without permission)