Interview with Una and Gramps – Morgan Heritage 2008

Morgan Heritage: Mission in Progress

Interview and Photos by Jan Salzman

July 1, 2008 – Los Angeles, CA – I am a huge fan of Morgan Heritage, the popular Reggae/Rock group of siblings, children of Reggae’s legendary singer, Denroy Morgan. My first exposure to the Morgan clan came during the 2007 Ragga Muffins Festival in Long Beach, CA, where their professionalism and expertise knocked me out! On June 18, 2008, they kicked off their summer tour at the Key Club on LA’s famed Sunset Strip. I caught up with them after sound check and took the opportunity to talk with brother and sister team, Una and Gramps Morgan. In this interview, the Morgan’s share their experiences growing up in Brooklyn, NY and Springfield, MA, as well as their musical influences, and what is important to this multi-talented family.

Morgan Heritage consists of Peter “Jahpetes” Morgan on vocals; Una Morgan—the sole female member—on vocals and keyboards; Roy “Gramps” Morgan on keyboards and vocals; Memmalatel “Mr. Mojo” Morgan on percussion, vocals, and rap; and Nakhamyah “Lukes” Morgan on guitar. As children, Morgan Heritage began performing in 1982. However, following two extraordinary performances at Montego Bay’s Sunsplash Festival in 1993, the group walked off the stage and into their first recording contract with MCA Records. Their journey is remarkable and their performances unforgettable. Here’s Una and Gramps, in their own words.

Jan: Is there anything in particular you want to talk about before we start out?

Una: I guess for me…I’m happy to be back on the road because I’ve been on a hiatus for the last two and a half years, since the last album. I’m now out with my brothers supporting [the new CD] for the summer and it feels really good. This album is probably one of the most aggressive ones that we’ve put out to date. It’s appealing to a broader audience and we’re proud of this one. It shows how we’ve grown, and continue to grow, as musicians and entertainers, song writers and producers. So, it’s a pleasure to be here one more time, on the scene, with Mission in Progress.

Jan: At what ages did you start to play musical instruments?

Gramps: The ages vary for each member. For Una as a vocalist, she started singing from birth, basically. My father (Denroy Morgan), our dad, of course, and dads notice certain things in their children. One day she was crying in the house and he said, “Buoy, you know what? She a go sing you know!” In English that means “boy it looks like she’s gonna sing.” From that, everybody just kept growing…me at an age of three/four…

Una: Three years old he was on the keyboard going dun da dun da dun. Playing with one finger. There’s pictures of him in a cowboy hat playing from where he was three years old on the piano.

Gramps: It was our fathers wish, and God bless him, give him more life and strength, and keep him amongst us to guide and protect us. He was a visionary and it was his brain child. He saw that…it looks like these kids are gonna have talent. He just groomed it and groomed it until we arrived at this point.

Jan: Tell me about growing up in Brooklyn.

Una: Brooklyn set the foundation for us. Brooklyn has given us the edge. It has given us a song like “Brooklyn and Jamaica” (from the album Mission in Progress.) It has enabled us to become the professionals we are today because it was in New York City that we got all the professional training…and in Massachusetts where we grew up…

Gramps: Big up Springfield Massachusetts!

Una: Everytime! But New York was that professional breeding ground where we rehearsed. Every summer and every weekend a week after school we would head down to New York to rehearse. We had great teachers like Clifford Branch, Carlos Garnett, the great Jackie Mitto that trained us, from we were very young, before any of us were even teen agers. We were pre-teen. It was a very good breeding ground for us to become who we are today. And every day we continue to grow. For me…I’m not the same singer I was three years ago. All of us have grown from that time until this time. So, it was a great experience growing up in Brooklyn and we carry it with us for life!

Jan: Speaking of Brooklyn…and the song “Brooklyn and Jamaica”…what do you think can be done about the violence in Jamaica?

Gramps: Well, the violence in Jamaica, it stems from many different things because there’s violence around the world. I’ve seen some tings goin’ on in Iraq on You Tube and it’s crazy. I’ve never seen nothin’ like that in Jamaica. So there’s violence around the world. But there’s a lot that we can do. First of all, we have to get rid of poverty. We have to increase education. Because, education is not free in Jamaica and a lot of people cannot afford it. You find that a hungry man is an angry man. And therefore, a man becomes desperate and will do anything. When he hears his baby crying…a lot of people don’t experience that in America. To see their child hungry, and reach a point where you will do any thing to seek to get food for your children. Those are the real things that bring up the crime in Jamaica because it’s hard fi survival and education. You’re talking about generations on top of generations that aren’t being educated. So, those are the things, you’ll find, that will change Jamaica.

Jan: Your album Mission in Progress is fabulous! And your music is referred to as ROCKAZ music.

Gramps: ROCKAZ! It’s R-O-C-K-A-Z! Now, we have gotten experience touring with bands like, on the Van’s Warp Tour, Good Charlotte, New Found Glory, Rancid, big up Benji, I saw him today, a matter of fact, bands like Bad Religion, No FX. We’ve learned a lot from them as well as they’ve learned a lot from us because it’s two different worlds. These tattooed suburban kids and this dreadlock Rastafarian came together and we rubbed off on each other. We ended up doing songs together on the 3 in 1 album for the band Good Charlotte, and songs that are still unreleased for the band Floggin’ Molly from Ireland. And, we came up with the sound ROCKAZ. Because, when they met us they said, “ Your reggae music ROCKS!” That it has a rock edge. That’s why we’re able to do shows with Lenny Kravitz, we’ve done shows with Jewel, Metallica…we’re able to play along side of these people. Because it’s roots reggae but it has an edge to it. When we describe it as ROCKAZ, it’s reggae music with a rock edge. We mix it with hip-hop, mix it with roots reggae and mix it with rock and smash it together, and you get ROCKAZ!.

{mp3}una and gramps morgan with jan s{/mp3}

Jan: All right! What artists in music influence you the most?

Gramps: Well, different artists. First of all I have to big up Steel Pulse, because they were one of the bands that took reggae music to another level when it came to the one drop beat. They started to infuse different chords and because of their enhancement, of their musical ability, it started to reflect on roots reggae music. When you started to hear different bridges and certain things in roots reggae, it created a sound. Steel Pulse, to this day, still has a unique sound. David Hinds is a great lead vocalist. And many lead vocalists in America, and especially in California, they sound a lot like David Hinds. So, back fi reggae…The Wailers, the original Wailers when Bob, Peter and Bunny were together, we listen to a lot of R&B, being born in America and raised here, we listened to a lot of top 40 radio. We listened to Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder…Una listened to a lot of Sade…myself, listened to James Ingram, Sam Cook, Michael Jackson, New Edition, so we grew up on a lot of American vocalists. It was the same thing even with Jamaica. When you listen to what Bob Marley was listening to, he was listening to Fats Domino and all of these R&B singers from North Carolina and VirginiaDetroit and St. Louis. A lot of artists in Jamaica, listen, vocally, to American albums ‘cause they’re the best vocalists in the world. and

Jan: Yes, “Love You Right” reflects your R&B passion. Which artists do you listen to the most now?

Gramps: I’m listening to FNB right now which is a punk reggae band. Which is kinda like our family ‘cause we grew up in the same neighborhood in Springfield, MA. They have a unique sound DJing on punk rock music…big them up. Listening to some oldies right now.

Una: Listening to Natasha Beddingfield right now. She has a bad single out right now with Sean Kingston that I really like. Rihanna, I like…Jason Rad, John Mayer…the list goes on and on as you can hear in our music, a lot of different music influences us. Even growing up listening to Genesis and Sting. Music is music and we come fi break the boundaries. The box that they like to put us in like, you’re reggae and you’re pop. e come fi bust up every barrier. We appreciate all kinds of music.

Jan: Do you have any favorites from songs that you written…from Mission in Progress?

Gramps: I would say one of my favorites is the Steel Pulse remake. To us we’re very passionate about that remake. You know, David Hinds and that whole massive, and what they’ve done for reggae music…in our opinion…they don’t get appreciated enough. A lot of people don’t talk about Steel Pulse, but they have done so much for this music. They’ve brought it to another level that even a young band, like Morgan Heritage, doing roots music can be inspired to even get up on our instruments. We could’ve been a vocal band like the Four Tops or something…or the Commodores , but we choose to pick up instruments and mimic what we saw (that) reggae music has offered to the world. We’re here to take it to the next level.

Jan: Mission in Progress is a masterpiece work. It’s quite a variety of different styles but mostly incorporating a reggae base. Tell me how you got going with this wonderful masterpiece.

Gramps: Each album we put together like a book. Like more teachings. We wanted to talk about the teachings of Rastafar-I. Not just to say Jah! Rastafari and eat ital and veggie chunks and red, gold and green, and put on a Haile Selassie button. That doesn’t make you a Rasta. It’s studying the teachings. It’s knowing that Rastafarianism is a Christian doctrine based faith. When we did that album we brought out some of the realities and some of the truths and the history of Rastafar-I. Of the teachings of His Imperial Majesty. That’s why we say we want the youths to get more of His Majesty’s teachings. ‘Cause a lot of kids just light up a spliff and say Jah Rastafari, Selassie-I, and not knowing the teachings of what it takes. Mission in Progress came about in showing the history of who we are and where we’re coming from and what music has influenced us. So, you’re gonna hear a song like “12 Shots.” And, the lyrics on that says, “This one is loaded with 12 shots that don’t play around. With the music that we’ve got to get Jah word around.” A lot of kids will gravitate to a song like that, buy the lyrics in it are just as conscious as a roots song like, “Mission in Progress” or “Politician.” If we’re not getting to the second generation then the mission has failed. And, this mission cannot fail. The mission must continue in progress. So it’s like, Mission in Progress is an experience, a moment. When you put it on, it’s like, wow! Music has to make you travel. I would hate to listen to an album and it’s one vibe. It’s like watching a movie and it’s one scene repeating over and over again. It has to evolve and travel. So, you hear a song like “Love You Right”…and it talks about relationships and how I want to do right thing by you…you hear a song saying, “Why should we trust in politicians”…and you hear a song saying “There’s a Mission in progress so we have to join arms”…so it’s a moment!

Jan: How long did it take you to put this album together?

Una: Three years. Some of it was recorded in Jamaica, some of it recorded in America, some of it recorded in the mobile studio that travels with my brothers, ‘cause they’re producers. For me…I was scattered all over the place…being a mom…being a business woman. The good thing is that my brothers stayed focused during the preparation of this record. What you hear is the hard work that they put in…what they’ve experienced. It is an experience, so, that’s what you’re feeling, you know?

Jan: What would surprise our readers to find out about you?

Una: (Laughs) I suck my thumb when I’m stressed. I think our music unveils to everybody who we are. That’s why it’s so important to me to stay true to what we put on these records. ‘Cause I don’t ever want the public to see me living what I’m not putting on my record. I went through my “Born Again” about five years ago…and the music that we put out…we’re only vessels being used by The Most High to uplift one another. If I don’t get back on that stage again, by the Grace of the Lord, I know that these words will always live on. The fact that we are blessed to do this…I mean, it’s an extreme blessing and we take it humbly…and continue to pray that the Lord Jah bless us with the melodies, the lyrics, the words that shall always uplift people here…Iraq, Africa. We were in Senegal and Gambia and pulled over 40,000 people in one venue, 30,000 in another venue. We haven’t even been there before, but our music was there and we were able to draw so many people…you know, the Power of the Most High. Unno tek him lightly, mama.

Jan: I actually met Haile Selassie once. I’ll have to tell you the story sometime.

Gramps and Una: Sure.

Jan: What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Gramps: I would say the biggest obstacle is staying focused on the music and the mission. ‘Cause a lot of times it can be frustrating when you’re touring and losing money over and over again. And each year we pack up the bus…get on the plane…and still do it year after year. And I think one of the biggest obstacles is getting over that hump and knowing that it’s a mission and sowing seeds that we will reap later. It’s not a music that is going to be remembered now…it’s like Bob Marley said, “You a go tired fi see mi face.” And still today Bob Marley is the biggest selling reggae artist of all time. One of the biggest challenges, I think, especially for Una is going on tour…and our children, you know? Being a parent, and having a life like that is a big challenge.

Una: Probably, the biggest, for me, as a mom, as well. Moms and dads have to have different rolls, but because we’re the nurturers, we carry the life. For me that’s probably the biggest. To make the decision to take the hiatus was major for me. Being on that stage is probably the best thing for me, you know? I missed it but my children…to be a mom is a blessing…when you become a mother, it becomes the first priority for you. Right after God. But we overcome it. With faith we shall overcome everything.

Jan: If you weren’t reggae stars what might you be doing?

Gramps: I would’ve taken my football scholarship to the Miami Hurricanes. I love football to this day. Not soccer, American football. Yeah man, I was a football player in high school and I was supposed to go to college. I went to Jamaica and got signed to MCA records in 1992. My coach, big him up, Mr. McLaughlin, an Irish guy, and he told me…say…”You can sing till you’re a hundred but you’ll never be able to play football not even half that age. So make the right choice it’s up to you.” So I chose music.

Una: was going to be an attorney. A music attorney. I did college…I was in John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City for three years and, like Gramps said, we got signed to MCA Records and that was through the door. Thank God, we have a sister now that’s gonna be one, so my dreams are coming true through her.

Jan: What do you like to do in your spare time…if you have any?

Gramps: I like to watch DVD’s and go to the movies on our days off. We hardly have any time for leisure to do things. ne of the biggest things we like to do is go to the movies. I can say that. We park the bus, on a day off, in a mall…we just go out and go to Walmart…(everybody laughs).

Gramps: It’s true. Lots of DVD movies, man, other artists concerts, just have fun.

Una: Shopping…that’s pretty much it. I like to swim. I don’t get much time anyway…being a mom, an artist, a business woman…I don’t get much time, but if I do I like to go shopping.

Jan: What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Gramps: Waking up…seeing the sunrise…have a prayer…give thank to Jah… give thanks for letting us see another day. Have some nice hominy corn porridge, some ackee and saltfish, sweet ripe plantain, and probably run in a de studio, make some music…take our time…not on any time schedule. Around 4 o’clock, play some soccer and after that play some more music and probably watch some tv after that…a nice DVD, in an air conditioned room! (Everybody laughs.)

Una: A perfect day…wake up, pray, sing a little around the house and lounge with my kids! …that’s a perfect day.

Jan: How old are your children?

Una: Well, I don’t really give out their ages but, one’s going to be a teenager, my other one…he’s a preteen…my daughter, who’s my baby, she’s going to be nine in July.

Gramps: Well, dem a random, you know? (Everybody laughs) I got a teenager and I got a baby. And, I would like, maybe, two more.

Una: What?!!

Gramps: I’m from a big family. We’re a family of thirty children. We’re a very big family, so we love family. Family is one of the biggest enjoyments that we have.

Jan: What makes you happy or makes you laugh?

Gramps: When I am eating with my family…everybody…and when I see family that I haven’t seen for a long time or get to speak with them on the phone. And being onstage, seeing people understanding our message, and feeling good, and watching the music pierce their skin.

Una: Family…seeing my kids happy…making them happy. Food…eating food, cooking, I love to cook, that makes me happy.

Gramps: She makes good cornmeal porridge.

Una: When I cook, I love to see people enjoy…that makes me happy. My brothers, laughing, joking, having a good time.

Jan: Do you have any special message for your fans?

Gramps: Thank you for the support. I gotta say that. Our audience has grown so much throughout the years. It’s been a journey, man. This is our tenth album. People have stuck with us throughout our growth, even as we continue (to grow.) As artists, we always continue to grow, and we’re always reaching for higher and higher levels because that’s how we are. We got into acting; clothing lines…we’re building a clothing line right now called Gideon Clothing, just to show you we’re always growing. It’s a movement, man, we call them the Gideon Soldiers.

Jan: What can we expect from Morgan Heritage in the near future?

Una: Everything. We’re musicians, we’re entrepreneurs. Gramps has a management company. I have a management company, and my brother Lukes has a booking agency. We’re producers, and songwriters. We’re following the steps of Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, and Jay Z, and Russell Simmons. We’re the reggae version of it. And we’ve been blessed to have the best of both worlds. We’re America-born children with the culture of Africa and Jamaica. We’ve been blessed to bridge the two worlds. So look out for us! Gideon! Everytime!

Gramps: Also, look out for Laza, our artist. He’s doing some serious work and has some great records. He’s the first male artist on the label, other than Morgan Heritage. Our other artist, Irie Love, is from Hawaii. Many labels have come before, but Gideon Music is here to stay. We’re gonna do a lot of great things for this music. We’re humbled and we give thanks.


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