Morgan Heritage

 

Many reggae young bloods take up the task of soul guidance, but Morgan Heritage is the widely acknowledged leader of the pack. Made up of 5 out of the 29 children fathered by reggae star Denroy Morgan - who scored a gold-certified single with the '81's "Anything For You", Heritage delivers the message with a warm inclusive spirituality that is as tangible as the band's muscular, rope-stretched-taut chops and fresh lyrical inspiration. Exuding the strength of unbreakable family ties and grounded in the firm foundation of roots reggae's faith in music as a carrier wave of a higher consciousness, the "First Family Of Reggae" is reggae's greatest assurance that the music has not lost it's soul to the international pop machine. Yet on "More Teachings", the latest 71 Records/VP Record set from Mr. Mojo (22), Lukes (23), Peter (25), Grandpa (26) and Una (27), the Morgan clan takes another giant step toward Heritage's inevitable conquest of the international pop audience.

"We've heard the message before from the reggae legends," says Mr. Mojo. "It's the message of Rastafari, and we stipulate in that message that His Majesty (Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I) is Christ returned. He's the Black messiah sent to redeem his people in the Diaspora, letting them know the fullness that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Yet our message is the same as Martin Luther King's and others. Mankind has to hear the same thing over and over again. So we come not with nothing new, but to remind people of who they really are."

It is said that those blessed with twin roots are the strongest, and Denroy Morgan's children were born in Brooklyn, where he relocated in '61, and raised with their ears tuned to a world of music. They learned to play R&B, rock and Roll as well as reggae.

"All the children were educated in Springfield, MA," says Una, "Our grandmother moved first, then called our dad and told him to move there for the better education system and nice environment. We came back to Brooklyn on weekends to practice in our father's recording studio." Yet within America, Morgan and his brood created a tiny pocket of Jamaica. "We were always aware of American culture," says lead singer Peter. "But Springfield is close to the countryside, like Jamaica. We even had chickens running around our yards in both places. Our dad spoke to us only in Jamaican patois at home. We'd complain that we need to speak more American, but he didn't want us to. Home had a Jamaican, Rastafarian atmosphere. The American thing wasn't necessary."

Flipping the script on the usual reggae story, Heritage was a virtual unknown in Jamaica when an awed MCA A&R exec signed the group in Montego Bay, hot off the Reggae Sunsplash '92 stage. "Miracles", the group's debut album was released in 1994.

"At the time, majors were signing reggae because the deejay (reggae rapping) thing was getting pop play with Mad Cobra, Shabba Ranks and Patra," says Peter. "We were viewed as a Jackson Five story with Reggae. When they first saw us, they knew our music was reggae, but after we were finally signed, they started dealing with us politically, telling us they want 'this' and 'that' type of song for pop radio. During the two years were making the album, the music got more and more diluted from it's original form. WE had recorded almost 30 songs with Sly and Robbie and other Jamaican producers before and after Sunsplash, but MCA only wanted on Sly and Robbie song. "Miracles" is not authentic reggae. It's an MCA record with Morgan Heritage only as the artists performing.

Heritage was released from their contract late in 1994. The following year, Morgan and his family returned to Jamaica, settling in Bucolic St. Thomas parish. For the children raised in Brooklyn, it was a true homecoming and they began digging deeper to discover their musical/cultural roots by working with such famed local producers as Bobby "Digital" Dixon and Lloyd "King Jammy" James.

"They have a history in Reggae and breaking many Dancehall and Reggae artists," says Peter. "It was like working with Sly and Robbie but on a more grassroots rather than international level. That's what really brought us into the Jamaican marketplace".

"Protect Us Jah", produced by Bobby Digital was released in 1997 by Brickwall/VP Records. It includes hit singles "Set Yourself Free", "Let's Make Up", "Live Up", and the set's title song, which was the first Heritage tune to make the Reggae world sit u p and take notice of the group. "One Calling", produced by Jammy and released by Greensleeves/VP, spun off smash hits like "God Is God", "Trodding To Zion", "Coming Home" and the title track.

Those albums resonate with a newfound authenticity. "It's just the pulse of the people," Peter observes. "You won't get hip hop if you're not from NY, LA or places in America where you can feel the vibe. You feel the Reggae vibe here on the island. You can produce Reggae anywhere, but it's not going to feel like Jamaica. Reggae is the heartbeat of these people, it comes from their pulse, so you have to mingle with people and to know what they're about".

After their two Jamaican-produced albums, Heritage branched out to work with other top recording studio giants - Philip "Fatis" Burrell, Donovan Germain, Tony Rebel and (sax legend) Dean Frazier.

"Reggae Bring Back Love", released during the heights of World Cup Reggae Boyz fever, shot the group to Reggae's frontlines. It was included in the Heritage's ground-breaking fourth set, "Don't Haffi Dread" (VP Records 1999), and was helmed by Bobby Digital. It featured the title boomshoot, "Don't Haffi Dread," a tune that captured hearts and minds all over the world by stressing the importance of the "content of one's character" rather than such superficial concerns as their hairstyle. It broke the group internationally. Not surprisingly, the lyrical theme - that one doesn't have to wear the customary dreadlocks to embrace Rastafarianism - sparked off a Reggae controversy that continues to this day.

"We don't argue the point," says Peter. "But sometimes, if we do spend time reasoning, they have to say It's true."

After the move to Jamaica, Heritage also set out to fulfill a not so hidden agenda: resolving petty riffs that divide the local musical community by creating imaginative collaborations with leading artists, including younger stars; Luciano, Buju Banton, Capleton and veteran singers like Toots Hibbert and Edi Fitzroy. The "Morgan Heritage and Friends" album series, which has yielded 2 sterling volumes sop far, impresses as much for it's searing tracks as for brining together artists usually not found on the same package. The group also began building it's own productions.

"We've developed our artistic, writing, production and executive sides by representing our own companies," Peter notes. "We've accomplished a lot in the past 5 years we've been in Jamaica, and we thank Jah".

Says Una, "The advantage is that everything stays within the family business - management, the writing and production. Even if there's a disagreement, we're right there with each other. We believe the Creator has blessed us with this mission of music and we believe our message is universal because everyone understands and feels love in one form or another.

"More Teachings" is alive with Heritage's euphoric family feeling and new spins on the hoary Rastafarian credo that it's all about love. Over the group's own productions, the set's eighteen tracks apply that lesson to the topics that range from equality and family unity, to the healing powers of music, to the faith that underclass can indeed transform the world's Babylon system and work. Featuring the group's densely textured harmonies, sinewy leads and firmly swinging beats, Heritage comes up with some of the most buoyant interpretations of Reggae's "One Drop" philosophy in recent memory.

"This new album is a dream come true for us," says Peter. "It's a conceptual album, unfolding like a storybook. "Don't Haffi Dread" is the preface and "More Teachings" is the entire book about the true teachings of Haile Salassie. We tell people how to live, to know Christ as your Lord and Savior while still knowing the divinity of Haile Selassie, that he's Christ in his kingly character, the returned Messiah".

"More Teachings" sails off an infectious positivism with a rousing opening tracks, "Ready Or Not", as Peter sounds a class Reggae warning to the faithful - the time of Judgment is now. The title track suffers no illusions in it's truth-telling. It features Peter and Gramps, who spit classic Yankee-style sense in a brief, suitably tough verse. The brothers trade lyrical accounts of "Blackman history" once again over the driving riddims of "Know Your Past".

"Questions," is a gentle test of faith for the listener, takes it down to the more relaxed but equally intense tempos of a night-long hand drum-propelled Nyabingi gathering. Those ancient, African vibrations also buoy the promise of "H.I.M. Come," and in "see Things Clear," Peter's shimmering prophesy equals the impeccable vocal purity of the late and sorely lamented Reggae legend, Garnet Silk. Old Testament fire and thunder rain down on the heathen in "So Much Confusion," while the bouncy riddims "Seen The Sun" evoke a feel-good Marleyesque mood and a lilting "Down By the River" takes the listener back to Reggae's Golden Seventies, by spring boarding off a classically sweet Studio One riff. And the whole family joins together to remind listeners "Love is the same all around the world" in "What We Need Is Love."

"More Teachings" is clearly the group's crowning achievement so far, but Heritage has also been busy spreading the love, producing other artists, including JAH CURE, Bushman, JAHMALI and their father for the family's labels. 71 Records releases "More Teachings" in tandem with VP Records and the Heritage Music Group (HMG) released the two "Family & Friends" sets. The family also produced the September 2000 - Heritage album, "Guns In The Ghetto", another compilation featuring Heritage with other artists including Bounty Killer on the title song. LMS, a trio of younger Heritage siblings, is already firing Reggae imaginations with high-octane performances. The family's next venture "East Man Project" is a group of three St. Thomas based artists; singer Prince Theo, dub poet Adigun and deejay Don Marshall. "Eventually they'll have their own band," says Peter. "But we're backing them for now. Hopefully, their album will be out by Fall 2001." The East Man Project artists are also featured in Heritage's extravagant stage production.

Reggae culture may have embraced Morgan Heritage as the best hope for the continuing success of Roots & Culture Reggae, but Heritage insists that "we're only vessels being used by the Divine Creator," says Una. Adds Mr. Mojo: "We're simply deliverers of a word. We're plainly and simply a family chosen to bring glory and gratification to the King".

Biography supplied by JLM Public Relations Inc. For more information, contact: 212-431-5227 or email Gabe Tesoriero/Jody Miller at jlm_inc@pipeline.com. Copywrite 2001.

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