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It’s Cool to be Conscious
By Maliika Walker
What is the first song that comes to mind when you think of the family band, Morgan Heritage? The first song I ever heard from Morgan Heritage was ‘Don’t Haffi Dread.’ The song showed me that you could be Rasta and not have loc’s. Morgan Heritage’s song catalog has been a source of knowledge and love to me for over two decades.
The members of Morgan Heritage are part of a musical dynasty headed by their father, the legendary Jamaican reggae artist, Denroy Morgan: Peetah Morgan (vocals), Una Morgan (keyboard/vocals), Roy ‘Gramps’ Morgan (keyboard/vocals), Nakhamyah ‘Lukes’ Morgan (rhythm guitar) and Memmalatel ‘Mr. Mojo’ Morgan (percussion/vocals).
Music played a significant role in their upbringing; while they attended school in Massachusetts, they spent their weekends in their father’s recording studio in Brooklyn, inheriting his legacy and passion which still lives on in their music today. MH’s debut album ‘Miracle’ was released in 1994, but they felt it was too pop influenced. The group subsequently re-launched in 1997 with the release of ‘Protect Us Jah’ and, from there, continued to release an impressive catalog of over a dozen hit albums, including ‘Don’t Haffi Dread,’ ‘More Teachings,’ ‘Full Circle,’ ‘Mission In Progress’ and their reunion album, ‘Here Comes The Kings.’
In 2015 Morgan Heritage released ‘Strictly Roots’ through their own label, Cool To Be Conscious Music Group. ‘Strictly Roots’ includes their hits ‘Perform’ and ‘Done’, as well as ‘Put It On Me’. It blends roots, R&B and a hint of dancehall in a way that can only be achieved by the Royal Family of Reggae. Collaborations with Shaggy, Chronixx, Jo Mersa Marley, Eric Rachmany of Rebelution and Bobby Lee of SOJA are also included. Jemere Morgan is featured on the song ‘So Amazing’, representing the next generation of the Morgan family (along with J Boog and Gil Sharone). The group is currently playing to sold out crowds across the US on their Strictly Roots Tour.
I recently got a chance to speak with Peetah Morgan about Morgan Heritage’s new label, new album and the decriminalization of marijuana in Jamaica.
IRIE. Morgan Heritage have been recording artists for quite some time. Why embark on your independent release now?
Peetah: Well, we have been in the industry for so many years. We have witnessed the industry’s growth from one stage to the next over the span of my career. The movement today is people going more towards the independent route. Artists no longer need a major label to do a lot of the things that were necessary; we can do them for ourselves now. When you are on a major label, they sit around and wait for the artist to create a buzz anyway. They then capitalize on what you have already done for yourself, so what is the point of signing with a major label today. It’s a lot easier to release a project independently when you are a brand like Morgan Heritage. We have developed our own brand and identity now, so we can go out on our own; it’s not so easy for those starting from scratch. The industry today is a movement towards independence. It is time for us to take our destiny into our own hands.
IRIE. I love the name of the band’s new label, Cool to be Conscious. What was the inspiration behind the name?
Peetah: We are parents raising our children and we remember what it was like growing up.
Kids have so many influences besides their parents, including the community and school. Children usually want to be a part of the cool crowd or simply follow the cool trend. We are just trying to get a message out to the younger generation that being cool doesn’t mean being all tattooed up or hanging out with gang members. We want children to know that they are cool for going to school, to study to make something of themselves like becoming doctors, congressman, etc. Having goals is cool also. Doing things like going to college, even when people tell you it’s not possible; that’s cool. Growing up, those people were referred to as nerds. We want the youth to know that paying attention to their school work, studying to be whatever they set their minds to, aspiring to make a great mark on society, are all cool. So we are just telling the people that’s it’s Cool to be Conscious.
IRIE. You worked with an eclectic set of producers on this album who hail from all over the globe, countries like the US, France and Jamaica. What led the band to work with this group of producers?
Peetah: Well, this is our first independent project. We wanted to reach out across the aisle and let everyone know that reggae music is not just a Jamaican thing. Reggae music is global. There are producers of great reggae music from all over the globe. Countries like France and the UK are some examples. You now have artists all over the world recording and performing great reggae music. We have collaborations on this album with artists from the US.
People have supported reggae music all over the globe since the days they were first exposed to the music. Today, reggae music is being supported more by people in the world than in Jamaica itself. If we cannot acknowledge that reggae music is a global music, without borders, then we are not being truthful to ourselves. That is the reason we were very adamant about working with people from different places because everyone has their own interpretation of reggae.
IRIE. Yes, that leads me to my next question. I did notice you worked with members of Rebelution and SOJA on this album. What was the experience like working with them?
Peetah: It was a great experience. Just seeing them develop from where they were to where they are now is wonderful. Their growth is inspiring to us and we are inspiring to them. Rebelution came together after the lead singer and bass player met in the principal’s office and they were both listening to Morgan Heritage. Our music was one of their inspirations for coming together as a group. Us knowing their story was even more encouragement for us to invite Eric to record a track with us on the new album. We support them and what they are doing with their music. It’s about unifying all levels of the music, no matter your color or culture, reggae music is reggae music.