Many see Morgan Heritage as the next-in-line after the Marley’s as royal family of reggae. Reaching the successful heights they have was something they only “Dreamt of”. With a career spanning over a decade with a slew of timeless classics, they credit their success and longevity to learning from legendary producers, namely King Jammy, Donovan Germaine, Fattis Burrel, Bobby Digital amongst others before going on to produce on their own. Success hasn’t gone to their heads though; they give thanks “to people who have recognised what we have done so far,” but go on to declare “we still feel we have a long way to go.”
Marvin Sparks caught up with members Mojo and lead singer Peetah to share the reasons why each Morgan Hertiage member has decided to go solo, leaving reggae music out of respective their solo projects, why Morgan Heritage aren’t bigger commercially, and their perspective on the burning question; is reggae what it used to be.
Marvin Sparks: Everybody loves the group Morgan Heritage; what are your reasons behind working on solo material?
Peetah: The solo projects just came by as an idea to introduce each member behind the group to the audience and to the fan base so that the audience can know each individual. Everyone knows the group but a lot of people don’t know the names of the member in the group. I go to places and get called Gramps, Mojo goes places and gets called Gramps, the biggest name in the group is Gramps - everyone knows Gramps! It’s something that we sat and reasoned about for a while and gave it much thought. At the same time it’s something that will breathe new life into the career of Morgan Heritage. We’ve been doing this for so many years, we’ve become comfortable in knowing what works. It wasn’t really a challenge for us anymore. Doing this now is a new challenge; it’s like fresh blood, starting all over again, so it’s a lot of fun.
Marvin Sparks: How will your solo material differ from what you already produce as Morgan Heritage?
Peetah: We’re not going to be doing roots reggae. My album is going to be straight up hip-hop and r&b. I’m working with a lot of producers in America who have worked with mainstream hip-hop and r&b artists. Mojo’s going to be doing alternative, more rock album; his sound is called rasta-rock and it’s very interesting. Una is doing neo-reggae-soul, Gramps already did a reggae album which was called 2 Sides of my Heart vol. 1 which came out August 2009 and he’s currently working on volume 2 which is going to be a more r&b/adult contemporary album.
Marvin Sparks: Which producers are you working with?
Peetah: I’m working with a kid named Ikon in Jamaica whom I met through Shane Brown. In America I’m working with a yout’ named Koko from Basement Beats. He’s the guy that produced about 90% of Nelly’s [debut album] Country Grammar, did a lot of work with St. Lunatics, still works with Nelly. This other guy called Voodoo Spells who has done a lot of work with Ludacris, Shawna, Chingy and the rest of DTP [Ludacris’ label Disturbin’ The Peace]. Those are the two main people I’m working with in America.
Marvin Sparks: As you’ve stated, you’re both doing music completely different from what your Morgan Heritage fans are used to. Are you not afraid of alienating them?
Peetah: No man, because we aren’t changing Morgan Heritage. I mean, if we aren’t doing something that is appealing to you, you don’t have to listen to it. Morgan Heritage is always there and we will never change what Morgan Heritage has done so, don’t be disappointed if what me do as Peetah or if you don’t like what Mojo does as an individual. This is for us to explore and do what we like which is just music. We as Morgan Heritage do roots reggae music, but at the same time, we as individuals are influenced by different genres. We are artists, at the end of the day, before anything else. We are not a genre; we are artists that make music. Who is going to like it, will like it, you know what I mean?
Marvin Sparks: This is coming at a time when people are having trouble identifying what reggae is, and claim reggae music isn‘t what it used to be...
Peetah: My problem with that is it’s not that reggae isn’t what it used to be - reggae is always reggae. What’s going on is that people are refusing to identify that the young generation that’s making music in Jamaica have created something new for themselves. Before there was reggae, there was ska, and before ska it was mento. The people that made reggae was the generation that made music after ska. Now you have this new generation in Jamaica after the generation that made dancehall creating a new sound. They are creating a whole different vibe through music, so it is for the younger generation to say “This is our thing, this is what we do, this is the kind of music that we make. We don’t make music like our grandfathers, and our great-grandfathers that did ska and reggae, we do what we do.”
It’s the same way they didn’t want to identify dancehall as a [genre of music]. They were like “Dancehall is a place where we go to listen to music,” yeah but the word dancehall has become a word for the music and for a while people were trying to say dancehall was reggae, but it isn’t reggae. Reggae is reggae, dancehall is dancehall, and we’ll soon find a word for what these kids are making today. I say that what they are doing is great and it’s innovative.
Marvin Sparks: Who are your influences outside of reggae music?
Mojo: I’m influenced by people like Jimi Hendrix, Alanis Morrisette, Eric Clapton, Coldplay, Jack Johnson just to name a few.
Peetah: I listen to a lot of old singers from the likes of Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, The Gap Band, Michael Jackson of course, Bobby Brown, Guy, New Edition all the way up until Usher, Chris Brown, Omarion and people like that. I listen to a lot of r&b singers.
Marvin Sparks: What are your aims for these albums? Are you looking for commercial crossover success?
Peetah: Our aim is to have fun with music. We’ve accomplished a lot with Morgan Heritage and we’re thankful for the blessings bestowed upon us. The main thing that we want to accomplish is that the audience gets to know each artist as an individual.
Marvin Sparks: A lot of people will compare it with Morgan Heritage’s material and success; are you worried about that?
Peetah: We accept that.
Mojo: We welcome the challenge because as solo artists we are going into different genres of music and the greatest thing for us is to get the message to as many people as possible. By doing this solo project is going to help us widen the fan base of Morgan Heritage then mission accomplished.
Marvin Sparks: Many people feel like you should have had much bigger success commercially. Why do you feel that hasn’t happened?
Mojo: Everything happens within the Father’s time. Maybe Morgan Heritage aren’t supposed to go commercial or have commercial success. You go to Africa, you can’t tell people Morgan Heritage is not a commercial success, you understand? We are just coming from South America and Surinam pulling over 50,000 people, you can’t tell them Morgan Heritage is not a commercial success. On the main continents like North America and Europe, maybe the solo projects are going to take us to that commercial mainstream level that our core Morgan Heritage fan base would like us to see.
Marvin Sparks: Speaking of tours, as part of Morgan Heritage, you are one of few reggae acts constantly touring places like main land Europe, eastern Europe, Africa, South America etc. Why do you think that is?
Peetah: The music man, the music just crosses many barriers. We call our music life music because people can relate to it. Everyday life of everyday people it comes through our music and people feel that. People looking for a light of hope on a rough day, week or month, our music can provide it for them sometimes. It crosses all ages and races, it’s beyond us and I’m grateful that Jah has chosen us to deliver such music to humanity.
Marvin Sparks: With the market the way it is right now, is it important to focus on those regions?
Peetah: Now at this point of Morgan Heritage’s career, that is what we are focusing on. For the past 10-12 years we have been focusing on North America, Europe and UK. Now, when we are doing our solo projects, let the solo projects deal with North America, Europe and UK but as a group we’re focusing on Africa, South America, South Pacific and there are billions of people in those places who have never seen Morgan Heritage who would love to see Morgan Heritage. So if anyone from North America, Europe and UK want to see Morgan Heritage, you may have to go to Africa or one of those places [laughs].
Marvin Sparks: Tell us about your first singles, starting with yours Mojo, ‘Million Dollar Check’
Mojo: My first single from an upcoming album is called Million Dollar Check. It’s been released to radio; it will be available from January 18th. It’s a song that relates to the economic downturn that everyday people is facing, not multi-billion dollar corporations that are losing billions but still making billions and they are the news saying “Oh we are losing money“.
We are talking about people that are having trouble finding their basic needs; food on the table, a vehicle to drive to work in, you children look nice going to school and don’t get bullied because they are wearing old shoes that have holes in. These are the problems that the people at the base are going through. When a musician can express themselves in a way that they can make audience know that they relate to them, I feel your pain, I feel it’s important to do that, and that’s what we’re doing out of the box.
Marvin Sparks: Will that be the theme of your album?
Mojo: It’s feel good music. I call my sound Rasta Rock, I released an EP earlier this year called ‘Got Mojo’ that was relased digitally, and it chronicled my journey from roots reggae to rock. There’s something on there for reggae lovers and straight up alternative rock lovers. This album isn’t going to something on there for reggae lovers, or for alternative lovers, it will just be feel good music. It’s a cross between rock, hip hop and a little bit of reggae here and there.
Marvin Sparks: Peetah, yours is called ‘Only You’. How did that come about?
Peetah: It was an idea that... the music came from this youth called Icon. He said that he wants to make music that reaches out further than just Jamaica. The producer that he idolises is Timbaland, and he said one day he hopes to be as big and produce tunes for mainstream acts like Timbaland does. He made the track but didn’t know what to do with it. I just said “Gimme it”, and it was really good. It sounds like a track any American can perform on, so I wrote a track to it, and it worked well with the track. Mojo heard it and was like “This is the [perfect] track”, so I made it the first single.
Marvin Sparks: And it’s a lovers song. Will that be the theme of your album?
Peetah: A lot of my songs are definitely going to be for the ladies. R&b with a little bit of hip hop in there.
Marvin Sparks: You’ve done a lot of work with Shane Brown and the Jukeboxx camp. Secrets in particular has been very successful. With that being reggae, will any of that be included on the album?
Peetah: Nah, none of those songs will be on the album. Those are just songs that I’ve been doing since we announced we are doing solo projects to let people know we are doing this, it’s real. Gramps was the first to put out an album, so we were still putting out songs to let everyone know that we are working. But the real sound that I will be delivering will be different and I think you will be blown away.
Marvin Sparks: As we enter a new decade, what are your hopes for the decade 2010 and beyond?
Mojo: My hope is for more love in our humanity. We pray that the love of Jah will flow amongst us. I heard a great philosopher say “If we were to focus on the power of love, instead of love of power, the world will be a better place”. In the decade I hope that becomes the focus of the world leaders - to unify humanity.
Peetah: Same thing man. More love of humanity. Everything in this world today is just stressful. Everyone wants to make it big today. Some people can’t even have the dreams to want the other thing than just the basic needs anymore. 10 years ago you’d be like “I will have this in 5 years time”, now you can’t even see past tomorrow. We just hope and pray the place is better and less stressful. Love is a key ingredient to this prosperity for humanity.
Interview conducted by Marvin Sparks [www.marvinsparks.blogspot.com / www.twitter.com/MarvinSparks]
Both singles released January 18th 2010 digitally on Gideon Soldiers Entertainment
The as-yet untitled albums are scheduled for release Spring 2010.
You may also be interested in:
Tarrus Riley interview here
Levi Roots interview here
Chino and Laden here
Queen Ifrica here
Jah Cure here
Reggae producer George 'Powerhouse' Phang here
Anthony B here
Beres Hammond here
Gramps representing Morgan Heritage here
Tarrus Riley here