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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 '81's "I'll Do Anything For You" - Heritage delivers the message with a warm, inclusive spirituality that's 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 "Royal Family of Reggae" is reggae's greatest assurance that the music has not lost its soul to the international pop machine. Yet on More Teachings, the latest 71 Records/VP Records 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 that 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 & 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 nicer 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 parents spoke to us only in Jamaican [patois] at home, but our dad would urge us to speak more American. We didn't want to. Home had a Jamaican, Rastafarian atmosphere."

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 '94.

"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 within 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 we were making the album, the music got more and more diluted from its original form. We had recorded almost 30 songs with Sly and Robby and other Jamaican producers before and after Sunsplash, but MCA only wanted one 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 its contract late in '94. 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 an international level. That's what really brought us into the Jamaican marketplace."

Protect Us Jah, produced by Bobby Digital and released in '97, by Brickwall/VP, 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 up and take notice of the group. One Calling, produced by Jammy and released by Greensleeves/VP, spun off smash hits "God Is God, " Trodding To Zion," "Coming Home" and the title track.

Those albums resonate with a new-found 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 the people and know what they're about."

After their two Jamaican-produced albums, Heritage branched out to work with other top recording studio giants - Philip "Fattis" Burrell, Donovan Germaine, 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, '99), also helmed by Bobby Digital, and featuring the title boomshot, "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 hair style. It broke the group internationally. Not surprisingly, the lyrical theme ­ that one doesnıt 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 the 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 rifts that divide the local music 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 so far, impresses as much for its searing tracks as for bringing together artists usually not found on the same package. The group also began building its 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 is everything stays within the family business - management, the writing, production. Even if there's a disagreement, we're right there with each other. We believe that 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 topics that range from equality and family unity, to the healing powers of music, to the faith that the underclass can indeed transform the worldıs 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 Selassie. 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 track, "Ready Or Not," as Peter sounds a classic reggae warning to the faithful - the time of Judgement is now. The title track suffers no illusions in its truth-telling. It features Peter and Gramps, who spits 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," 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 springboarding off a classically sweet Studio One riff. And the whole family joins together to remind listeners that "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 Heritage Music Group [HMG] released the two Family & Friends sets. The family also produced the Sept., 2000, Heritage album, Gunz 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 artist - 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."

Morgan Heritage Links:

The Music of Morgan Heritage - Track List

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