The year 1992 marks the arrival of Morgan Heritage, a self-contained band of very talented young people - who were born and brought up in Brooklyn N.Y. - that developed into a band reggae had not seen or heard before. Morgan Heritage consists of five of the 29 children of Denroy Morgan, former lead vocalist of the Black Eagles. Let's introduce the members. Lead vocalists are Una (aged 26), Peter (24) and Gramps (25), the latter also plays keyboards. Furthermore we have rhythm guitarist Lukes (22) and percussionist Mr. Mojo (20).|
Rasta since birth, the spirit of Jah is an omnipresent in their music. Self proclaimed Soldiers of the Lord, their music breathes spirituality and positivity. Much like the original and legendary Wailers before them, Morgan Heritage captures the vibrations of the Lord and Spirit of Rastafari in both their music and lives.|
"We want to uplift people," states Peter. "We're not trying to dictate how people should live. We're saying, know who you are and live life to the fullest in love, peace and righteousness."
Often set in front of a penetrating roots backdrop Una, Peter and Gramps' vocals appear more suited for R & B riddims. The roots sound and soulful vocals may always be a contradiction in terms, but in case of Morgan Heritage it is a wonderful contrast. However, unlike many of their contemporaries, Morgan Heritage have not suddenly jumped on the "roots and culture" bandwagon and their emphasis is not on ghetto struggles or political beat downs. They have been recording "roots and culture" from day one. They neither pretend to be something they are not nor speak of issues beyond their own reality.|
"When you are given the opportunity to live life, you should live it to the best, to let the Lord use you as a vessel to let his work be done," says Una. It's a gift and we must always value it."
As well as being brought up as Rastas, music also played a significant role in their upbringing. Their father, Denroy Morgan, was one of reggae's early success stories scoring a massive hit with "I'll Do Anything For You" and becoming the first reggae artist to sign to the major company RCA Records. In 1971 Denroy set up his own recording studios and label. Although the members of Morgan Heritage went to school in Springfield, Massachusetts, they came back to Brooklyn N.Y. for the weekends to record music with their father. The musical education from their father was invaluable as they studied all aspects of the (reggae) music industry. |
"He has always geared his children towards the best," says Una. "He is our shepherd and not only is he our daddy, he is our friend, our tutor and our mentor. He has really been the key influence in everything that you hear now. Musically, mentally, physically and spiritually."
There's no tragedy or hardship involved in the Morgan family. This is not another Jackson Five story. Together the Morgan family forms the tightest of bonds that remains strong to this day.
"The message is that family structure is the key," says Una."We believe in families and that through the faith of Rastafari, we can stay strong and use the music as the vehicle to spread the message of Rastafari."
As Morgan Heritage began to take the music industry more seriously they began to experiment with other musical forms. Growing up in the U.S. there was always a strong element of R & B in their lives with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Guy providing much inspiration. However, their explorations would take them beyond reggae and R & B. They would delve into an assortment of musical styles - including The Police, Van Halen and The Thompson Twins - to enhance their artistry.
"In order to become the musicians we are now, we had to learn how to play other kinds of music." explains Grambs. "We played R & B and rock 'n' roll to develop our musical chaps. But we always knew our base was reggae and that's what we would always come back to."
Morgan Heritage's initial breakthrough came after their performances at the 1992 Reggae Sunsplash. They became the first band or artist in Sunsplash history to perform on two seperate nights. With the major labels scouting for reggae acts at the time, MCA would sign Morgan Heritage "straight off the stage". Although Una describes the feeling as "amazing" the first thing on their minds was the condition of their father, who had a 102 degree fever.|
"It was the best and the worst happening at the same time." says Una.
It was through MCA that their debut album "Miracles" came out in 1994. Although the group themselves were not entirely happy with the commercial nature of their debut, it would nonetheless herald their arrival as reggae's new universal ambassadors. However, their major label excursion was a short one as MCA could not take Morgan Heritage's music in its purest form. They often tried to water down their sound. Their 1995 tour of the Ivory Coast in Africa became a discovery. "A feeling from our ancestral forces." says Una, and reaffirmation that they would have to take back the creative control of their music. As with most reggae artists, leaving a major label would turn out to be an unexpected benefit.
By the end of 1995 they went to Jamaica to capture the essence of their roots sound. Days were spent recording with King Jammy and the evenings with Bobby "Digital" Dixon.
"Going back to Jamaica was the key for Morgan Heritage," says Una. "We had to really take Jamaica and really reach for the grass roots community... you get the real reggae feeling when you're recording in Jamaica. There's no comparison."
Throughout 1996 and 1997 a series of hits were to follow, culminating in their stunning album for Bobby "Digital" entitled "Protect Us Jah" and the highly acclaimed "One Calling" album which was produced by King Jammy.
"Working with producers of this calibre, that builds riddims that will project the feeling, that will project the power, is the key," says Una. "That is the formula Morgan Heritage needed." After the release of these albums Morgan Heritage continued to deliver high quality "roots and culture" music as the Morgan Heritage machine kept on rolling. Producing music for everyday people, expressing an indisputable love and passion for life whilst the spirit of Rastafari keeps them focused.
"Music is a universal thing," says Una. "Our message is that life is a miracle and a gift from God, and what to do with our life is our gift in return. We want to inspire people to value life..."
Source: Greensleeves' Morgan Heritage Biography, October 27, 1997.
Discography (regularly updated): Teacher & Mr. T.
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