REGGAE VIBES: Morgan Heritage is a reggae band made up of siblings; Una who is a vocalist/keyboardist, Peetah (vocalist), Roy “Gramps” (keyboardist/vocalist), Nakhamyah “Lukes” (rhythm guitarist) and Memmalatel “Mr.Mojo” (vocalist/MC/percussionist). They are children of veteran artiste Denroy Morgan born in Jamaica but raised in the US. Isaac Ssejjombwe talked to the band ahead of their show in Kampala.
When was Morgan Heritage formed?
Morgan Heritage was formed in 1994. Our father was reggae artiste Patriarch Denroy Morgan, so we have been in the game from birth.
A lot of people do not know that you spent some years in the US (Massachusetts). Were you playing music then?
Yes, we grew up between New York and Springfield. We were there in elementary and high school. Also our oldest sisters went to Boston College and Boston University, so that was a part of our family history as well. We got a lot of our training in Springfield. We had some great vocal and music teachers.
Your father was Jamaican but you grew up in the States. Do you think a US background gives your music a different feel?
Totally. Our music is real reggae, but you have a lot of RnB and hip-hop overtones and even some rock influences. We had the best of both worlds growing up because at home it was all about Jamaican culture but at school it was all about American culture.
23 years in the music industry! What has kept the band together this long?
We are siblings for starters and besides that, the love for one another has kept us together. It is our greatest achievement to date.
Being siblings, did you all have the same dream of becoming musicians?
The group consists of four brothers and one sister. Our father was a singer. So as children it was natural for some of us to want to follow in his footsteps. Growing up, we all had different aspirations but music was our calling and we all chose to answer it.
We understand that three original members left the group shortly after it was established. Why did they leave?
That statement is incorrect. Three members decided to focus on their families shortly after we were released from MCA Records in early 1995 right before we moved to Jamaica. To be a recording artiste takes a lot of sacrifice. When you start a family, you have to start living for those you have created. That is the most difficult decision a person has to make when they love what they do. That goes for anyone doing any other profession.
Morgan is your father’s name, but where did the Heritage come from?
The Heritage name is what we represent in our family; culture, history and humanity.
Peetah Morgan is the most prominent member in the group. In fact, many people think Morgan Heritage is a solo artiste. Why is it so?
We think this is due to the piracy in reggae, where mix CDs flood the global market coupled with the limited amount of music videos we created in our early years. Between 1996-2006 Peetah did most of the lead vocals on our singles and albums, so without videos, many could easily think he was a solo artiste.
Didn’t this affect the rest of the band members?
Since it was never an intentional strategy, no one felt the need to feel bad about his fame. After all, he is our lead singer and that was a good thing that he was so popular with our fans. We wouldn’t want it any other way.
Can a new member join Morgan Heritage now?
Morgan Heritage is a five-people band; that will never change.
What type of reggae do you do?
We do Roots, Rock and Reggae but we call our style Rockaz.
Does every group member have a specified role in the band?
Una is the lone female in the group and she is a vocalist and keyboardist. Gramps is a vocalist and keyboardist. Peetah is the lead singer and plays guitars. Lukes is the guitarist and Mr Mojo is the percussionist and rapper.
What challenges have you faced in the 23 years you have been in the music game?
The biggest challenge in recent years is finding a balance between our families at home and our family on the road.
How many albums do you have?
We have so many albums on the market. They should be more than 15 albums, including ‘Miracles’, ‘Protect us Jah’, ‘One calling’, Don’t Haffi dreads’, ‘Live in Europe’ and ‘Strictly Roots’.
Would we be right to say that Strictly Roots released in 2015 has been your best album ever, especially since it won you a Grammy Award?
You could say that.
But why do you think that album won?
We won because the voting members of the Recording Academy thought our album was the best body of work for 2015. However, we believe that nothing happens until the appointed time that our father in Zion chooses. So in short, it was just our time.
Tell us more about this album?
When we say “Strictly Roots”, we talking about everything in existence, because no matter what it is, who it is, where it is from, everything comes from something, everything has roots. So with everything we do, we deal with the roots of all things. So Strictly Roots is our motto. Because if you can deal with the root of something, you understand how it reached where it reached and you will understand where it is going to go.
Listening to some of your songs from back then and those you are releasing today, there is some difference. Why not stick to the previous style?
We just keep on using new and different styles because if we stick to the same style, we will end up in the vintage box.
Don’t you think you will lose your early fans?
We will probably lose some of the hardcore roots fans, but our styles appeal to a large audience. You know we could play an hour of a jazz show or one and a half hours of a rock show. We play songs for everyone.
With these different styles, do you play other songs at non-reggae festivals?
We auto adjust. We create a special list if we go to a non-reggae festival. So at the festivals we adjust to the crowd. We are able to do this because we make music for everyone.
How would you describe the old Morgan Heritage and the new Morgan Heritage?
There are a lot of new styles in our music today, which will hit a wider range of music lovers.
What is your most memorable show in the 23 years?
One of our most memorable shows would have to be performing in Senegal in 2009 for over 60,000 people. Africa is home for us and to have that type of home coming, words can’t express the joy in our hearts that night.
You are having a show in Uganda soon. What do you know about the Pearl of Africa?
Uganda to us is much like all of Africa. It is a land of untold stories and we look forward to discovering those stories upon our arrival.
Do you know about any Ugandan artiste?
We do not know about many Ugandan artistes but we know Jose Chameleone and we have already collaborated with him.
Can we get more details about the song?
Not at the moment.
Uganda is not big on reggae. What are your expectations for the show?
Our only expectation is to have a good time playing reggae music for the people.
Among your songs, which is the best?
Our music continues to evolve and grow from one album to the next. So until we officially retire, we cannot choose a song to call our best. That is for our fans to do as our career continues to progress.
Quick bits about Morgan Heritage…
•The band has been together for 23 years in which they have released several hits including Don’t Haffi Dread, I’ll Do Anything For You with Denroy Morgan, U’ve Got Me, Tell Me How Come, Perfect Love Song among others.
•They have performed in different African countries including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Senegal and Malawi but next week will be their first time in Uganda.
•The Royal Family of Reggae, as the band is fondly known, have worked with many top reggae bands and DJs of today, including Capleton, Junior Kelly, Luciano, Gentleman and Beres Hammond.