Morgan Heritage - The Royal Family of Reggae  By Hortense Fuller

Although Reggae Music has endured a roller coaster ride over the past couple of years, a telling sign of the music’s strength has been the recent efforts by such promising groups as Morgan Heritage. The year 1997 has proven to be very exciting for Morgan Heritage and their fans, beginning with the release of the powerful new album, Protect Us Jah, on VP Records. The band has been stripped down from seven family members to a core of five. According to Peter Morgan, the group’s lead vocalist, this new configuration "still has the same family focus - perhaps a more unified and divine focus than before - but also a tighter sound." The resulting album has a deeper Reggae vibe and is thus more satisfying to the strict Reggae fan than their previous album on MCA, Miracle.

By going back to their roots, Morgan Heritage has invariably established a solid identity and benchmark for future works with their powerful new recording Protect Us Jah. With this release, Morgan Heritage has shifted from Major label support to that of the Independent VP Records. According to Peter, the move to VP "has been a very a positive development for the group and its identity." Peter stressed that working with VP Records "keeps Morgan Heritage true to the music."  Commenting on the now infamous early-nineties trend of Majors signing on Reggae artists and then unceremoniously dropping them, Peter stressed that "Reggae and the Majors do not go together. This is because the Majors do not want to accept the music for what it is." Peter continued by explaining that initially, the Majors "signed the acts because they liked the sound."

This was indeed the case with Morgan Heritage’s immediate signing after their stellar performance at the 1992 Reggae Sunsplash. However, with the subsequent Major label release, the company "changed the sound" trying to appeal to cross-over audiences. In some cases, the Majors "turned the artists into tax write-offs, [and] only marketed the music to the [chain] stores like Tower Records or The Wiz."   But with VP records, Peter explains, everything has changed. "We give thanks to VP, RAS, Heartbeat records... all the companies that are true to the music. They are better companies to work with, [and] they can market the music to the small communities that have always supported Reggae music." Summing it all up, Peter stressed that "Reggae music is slow growing - but ever growing - and the Majors lack time or patience" to work with the artists or the music.

The results of the Morgan Heritage and VP Record’s collaboration are beginning to pay off, as various members of the band commented that the public response has so far been "tremendous" and continues to grow day by day. Even in Europe, where the album has not yet been officially released, several songs that have crossed the Atlantic are receiving tremendous airplay and very positive feedback. Peter, taking on role of spokesman for the family, says that the group is "happily surprised by the response."

Right after the 1992 Sunsplash performance, "there was much media hype surrounding Morgan Heritage - there was literally a buzz - but now, with the new album, people are finally really listening and getting into the music." The reasons for this appear to be two-fold.  First, VP Records has a marketing and distribution network that reaches Reggae fans throughout America and the Caribbean. Second, Protect Us Jah is a solid and roots- heavy release with heartfelt vocals, which thus strikes a chord with many Reggae fans. Now that the initial media hype is gone, Morgan Heritage can successfully showcase their group’s talents (ability to combine Jamaican roots with R&B tinged vocals) and thus be accepted at face value for their quality work.

Protect Us Jah is presently having its share of success via several singles that are receiving favorable radio airplay. The official single, "Let’s Make Up," is doing well, along with the hit "People Are Fighting," the roots anthem "Set Yourself Free" and the family values song "Mama & Papa". While each single covers a different topic in a polished yet provocative fashion, the essentials of the Morgan family heritage is evident throughout. The album, produced with Bobby Digital, came about after the 1995 Reggae Sunsplash performance when "Papa" Denroy Morgan made the necessary introductions and the two parties hit it off immediately.

I was surprised to learn through Peter that two separate albums were actually recorded in Jamaica at the same time, the first containing 15 songs for Bobby Digital while another set of 18 songs were recorded for Jammys Productions. Several of these Jammys singles, such as "Ladies" (a duet between Una and Lady Saw) and "Gimme A License" have been released in Jamaica. As is presently planned, the complete album of the 18 Jammys singles will be released sometime in the near future.  The band has likewise been keeping very busy performing, both at a series of local New York club engagements and at various Jamaican Reggae festivals. Peter stressed that recent Jamaican performances have been very positive for the band and their growing reputation.

Amongst the significant gigs, Sunsplash ‘96, the Rockers TV Jam in November, and Tony Rebel’s "Solution" Event in January are highlights in the group’s recent memory. Subsequently, there are big plans for the Summer months, including a North / West Africa tour, beginning at the Celebration for the King of Morocco in July. From there, the group plans to continue down the West African coast, stopping in Dakar, Senegal as well as Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Along the way, the possibilities are endless for other appearances and Peter stressed that the group wants to seriously consider Africa seriously as a part of their agenda and potential fan base. After the African tour, Morgan Heritage will continue on to Europe for a series of concerts and festival performances, finally ending up their tour back at home in the United States during the Fall.

Concluding the interview, Peter stressed that the family hopes that Protect Us Jah will "inspire people to live more lovingly with one another on this earth." The group, realizing that this is no easy task, further stresses that unity and family values are essential to a successful and meaningful existence on this planet. This is ideally illustrated by the fact that the band members all grew up together in a solid family environment. Morgan Heritage is representative of the unity that can exist between American and West Indian cultures. "We were born in America, but we grew up surrounded by constant Jamaican roots. We can speak both languages fluently, and our Mama and Papa did not let the elements of the street come into our family structure." The result is a direct testimony to the music’s plead for unity. Through their recent efforts, Morgan Heritage hopes that "people will see that we have been blessed through the line of our father in music," and are ready to share this with the world.