Morgan Heritage is made up of 5 out of the 29 children fathered by reggae star Denroy Morgan – who released a gold-certified single with ’81’s “I’ll Do Anything For You.” Denroy Morgan’s children: Mr. Mojo, Lukes, Peter, Grandpa, and Una were born in Brooklyn, New York, (he moved to New York in 1961) and raised with their ears tuned to a world of music. They learned to play R&B, rock, as well as reggae.
“All the children were educated in Springfield, Massachusetts,” 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 the United States, Morgan and his familyd 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.”
Morgan Heritage was a virtual unknown in Jamaica when an awed MCA A&R (Artist & Repertoire) executive 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 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.”
Morgan Heritage was released from its 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 an international level. That’s what really brought us into the Jamaican marketplace.”
Protect Us Jah, produced by Bobby Digital and released in 1997, 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 Morgan Heritage tune to make the reggae take notice of the group. One Calling, produced by Jammy and released by Greensleeves/VP, delivered smash hits “God Is God, “Trodding To Zion,” “Coming Home” and the title track.
“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, Morgan 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, increased the group’s visibility in the reggae scene. It was included in the Heritage’s ground-breaking fourth set, Don’t Haffi Dread, (VP Records, 1999), also produced by Bobby Digital, and featuring the title song, “Don’t Haffi Dread.” This hit song stressed the importance of the “content of one’s character” rather than such superficial concerns as hair style. It became an international hit. 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 the time reasoning, they have to say, `It’s true.”
After the move to Jamaica, Morgan 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 serie 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 noted at the time. “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 clearly one of the group’s crowning achievements, but Morgan 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 released More Teachings in tandem with VP Records, and Heritage Music Group [HMG] released the two Family & Friends sets. The family also produced the September 2000 Morgan 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 delivering reggae imaginations with high energy performances.
Miracle (MCA, 1994)
Protect Us Jah (VP Records, 1997)
One Calling (VP Records, 1998)
Don’t Haffi Dread (VP Records, 1999)
Live! In Europe 2000 (VP Records, 2000)
I Calling (Greensleeves Records, 2000)
More Teachings (VP Records, 2001)
Three in One (VP Records, 2003)
Full Circle (VP Records, 2005)
Live: Another Rockaz Moment (VP Records, 2006)
Caribbean Party(Universal Distribution, 2007)
Mission in Progress (VP Records, 2008)
Here Come the Kings (VP Records, 2013)
Strictly Roots (CTBC Music Group, 2015)
Avrakedabra (Empire Distribution, 2017)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.