MH: Gramps Morgan
RNYC: Reggae In NYC
RNYC: Being based out of Brooklyn, what makes NYC your home base and how much time do you spend here throughout the year?
MH: Not as much as we would like to. We were born in Brooklyn, so Brooklyn is home. We like to see the projection for how things have gone in Brooklyn for the past, well we will just say 15 years, everything is changed. I was on Delancey St. yesterday where we used to shop and you can see there are all kind of high-rises about to go up on the water. It almost reminded me London and Dubai. I know what they are about to do, I can see it, because I have travelled the world, so I know there is an evolution of architecture and structure and I love it.
I would like to spend more time here but we are working. Creating our own record label, Cool To Be Conscious and then winning the Grammy as a record label that's a whole different thing then winning a Grammy as a recording artist or producer and songwriter. Now a lot more people want to work with you, a lot of people want to know what we know, as a record label. Because of working with VP Records for so many years, we taught VP a lot of things. When we were with VP they were a distributer, they weren’t a record label. We kinda said to them, wait a minute, you are behaving as a record company, why don't you be a record company and shortly after that they changed into a record company. They’ve watched us grow and see how much we have grown and say, “oh my good look at them, they have grown up.” Like their babies. It's a beautiful thing. We really want to spend some more time in New York. New York is an amazing city that doesn't’ sleep.
"You can only revive something that is dead or unconscious. Reggae is here, reggae is alive"
RNYC: Since you travel all over New York, what is the best thing about performing here? What makes it different from other places?
MH: It’s a melting pot. It’s a little bit like Amsterdam where there are a lot of Dutch Caribbean, when we perform in Rotterdam. But New York City there is a lot of Caribbean Islands, but also some Europeans here that may be on vacation shopping in Time Square. They are like “Oh, Morgan Heritage concert is in town” and then all of a sudden you get five or six different European countries that people may pass through. As well its our home base, people that have been following us since we were kids, since we were little children. People come and say, “I wanted to see Morgan Heritage I haven’t seen them in a while.” It’s really like a homecoming, every time we play in New York and we don’t play it too often, because we try not to play anywhere too often.
RNYC: Before we jump into the album, off the bat, what is your favorite song?
MH: I always get this question, but many times you may have a favorite song depending on the mood. One Family with Ziggy Marley and Stephen Marley may be the song of this album to cheer you up and remind you of the love of family. Because we have a very big family and we don't get to see them enough. It reminds us that we are one family. I don’t get to see my dad enough. I dont get to see my children enough. It’s just that reminder that we are one family.
Currently the tribute with Bunny Ruggs is a really heart felt song and the song with the guy who plays on the Bruno Mars record, 24 Karat, Mr. Talkbox, Want Some More, that’s the one I’m feeling. The first on the album, for now, but I think it will be that for the next couple months.
RNYC: That’s funny I was trying to pick a favorite too I also love Selah. It penetrates.
MH: That is a fun, fun record. I don’t know if you listened to the global remix at the end, but we are very adamant about celebrating our reggae superstars in Jamaica. There are reggae superstars from all over the world now. Reggae is no longer just a Jamaican thing. The foundation reggae artists, they don't’ get celebrated enough and I think the media is kind of running away with the crazy amount of reggae artists that are coming up and not realizing we need to celebrate the ones that have set the work. Like the other day Frankie Paul passed away and all of a sudden everyone whet Frankie Paul crazy. When he was sick in the hospital there was nobody, he was a very close friend of our family and when he died everyone went “Frankie, Frankie” you know that hurts.
RNYC: You got to show it when they are here.
MH: Show it when they are here. Freddie McGregor is still here, you know, living legend. Still sounds amazing, you talk about people like Ken Boothe, still here. John Holt is gone, Alton Ellis is gone, people like Toots and Maytals are here and we need to celebrate them. Steel Pulse, still here. We need to celebrate them for the works they have done. A band like Big Mountain, they cracked that door open for mainstream reggae, people kind of just forgot about them. We Morgan Heritage have taken a stand that we are gong to celebrate our superstars. We celebrate; we did a tribute to Steel Pulse, with Rave Roots Dance on the Mission in Progress album. We did a tribute to Bunny Ruggs on this album, plus covered a Jimmy Cliff song, written by Janet Jackson, which most people don't know. These histories, we are historians, we like to dig up stories that most people don't know. Even the title of the album, people we’re like what does it mean? Come on do your homework.
RNYC: So where did the title come from?
MH: We are lovers of history. When my father first came to this country as a Jamaican, he just came here as a normal Jamaican. You know a church boy who came to find a better life in a better country. Like most people come to the United States. Whether it’s Italians, Japanese, Chinese or Koreans, we are all in New York City, and my father was working for a rabbi when he first got to his country and he was working at a deli. That was my fathers first job, right in Brooklyn. He learned a lot from him and his mind started to open up, from a Jamaican who grew up on this island, so he started to learn about history. He learned about Jewish history and Israel and how to eat proper. Certain things you don't eat, I have never eaten pork in my life. That’s because of the Jewish culture, not Rasta. The Jewish culture led me to Rastafari, through my father.
RNYC: It’s crazy you say that, growing up in Israel, I used to sit as a kid and decipher and what would stick out was ‘lion of Judah”. You say in the Selah song “Addis Ababa”, and as a kid there is a word “sababa”, which is almost like irie. It means everything is cool, it’s good. I would listen and it would connect to me, I thought, wow they are singing about my culture.
MH: It's one history you know. We are researchers of history, so when we bumped into it we said “Avrakedabra” and it's a lost word in Hebrew. If you notice it's a rich culture, you see my Star of David, it’s rich in Rastafarian culture. People say David (Da-Vid) but this means David (Dae-Vid) in English. There is a lot of words that are not pronounced correctly through the transition of time. English is a very dirty language, but it has now become the universal language. Through English being known as the international language there are a lot of words that are lost.
In Aramaic there are words that English words cannot even explain. We just learn through history. It’s like how we learn about different cultures, when we just started traveling and going to Europe, I found how rude we are. It’s very rude that you go to another country, you are in France asking “Do you speak English?” “No, you are in France, of course not, why don’t you take some time to learn our language so when come here you can help yourself out.” How about that? Why don’t you come to Germany and learn a little German? So you can help yourself with it. No one comes to the U.S.A. saying, “Do you speak French?” That's how rude Americans are, we are very abrasive sometimes. You go to another persons country, speak my English language, that’s now how the world works. Make some effort, show some “konnichiwa”, you go to Japan (speaks Japanese) learn the culture learn the language.
Thank you, you took some time to learn what I am about. If I come to Israel, I say “Shalom brother”, you took some time to learn something about me and I learned that through traveling. The title of the album is the same as what we learn through traveling, it means “I speak what I create.” Through the transitions of time the word changed, I saw some research that it was about spells, then it was about magic. But I grew up I remember the word Abracadabra and I was like “wait a minute, that’s what I saw on sesame street”, when he said “abracadabra, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” Then the research, he wanted to created peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which is why he said Abracadabra. Then I researched and I said wait a minute, there is “Avrakedabra”, which was a thing that they used, a word to heal people. And I’m like, “WOW”. That is a nice thing, so after we won the Grammy, we were like lets do magic, because people refer the word Abracadabra to make magic.
RNYC: Does that symbolize your eclectic sound? On the album you have a little bit of dubstep a little bit of hip hop beats?
MH: It’s mildly fused in there. There is no one dubstep track or one hip hop track, its fused into reggae. In your mind dubstep, I mean the word dub is from dub. So all of a sudden dubstep creates this new word, maybe what ten years ago maybe five or eight years ago and reggae is taking from dub. But wait, dub is reggae and all of a sudden, but the kids are so creative they took something out of reggae and made dubstep, but remember it still belongs to reggae. So you take (he claps his hand and sings a dubstep beat) that’s Sly and Robbie, “Guess who’s coming to dinner natty dreadlock”. So it’s original and it’s dubstep, and it’s one family.
RNYC: You mention the family. How is it making music with the family? But not just that, working with two other brothers (the Marleys), so it’s two families coming together to make one song?
MH: It was incredible. It took almost 25 years to make this record. They’ve been busy and from when we exploded on the scene we have been busy. But the mutual love and respect for each other is incredible. It’s mojo’s best friend, Stephen Marley. Who would have known? Most people don’t know that, now you know. Buju Banton is one of my best friends, if not the number one, not to offend my other friends. You find that certain people connect in your workspace. Mojo and Stephen Marley connected in a very special.
Me and Ziggy Marley connected musically but never kept in touch, because he moved from Jamaica to Los Angeles and started dong cartoons and cookbooks. He’s just amazing the way his mind thinks. He challenges himself all the time, he doesn’t put himself in a box. He is married to a Jewish woman, he didn’t say “I want to marry a Jamaican woman or a black woman or a Chinese woman.” He is a very open minded person. That is what Rasta should be, that we believe in one love not necessarily a religious thing. You understand me say? The biggest thing in Rastafari is believing in that Solomonic Throne, the Throne of David, that is the strongest point of being Rasta. Other then that it’s not dreadlocks, its not veggie chunks, it’s not ganja, its not wearing the Selassie red, gold and green on your shirt. That’s the culture, that's the fashion. It’s coming together.
When we finally made it happen, we was building this record around 12:00am in the night in Reunion Islands, which is an island off the coast of Madagascar, way on the other side of the planet. We had a show and it was like 12:00am and Peter said “come to the room I got a great idea.” We recorded that in a hotel room and then upon building it through the whole night, we realized we gotta put live drums on this. We were flying back through Europe and stopped in Paris, booked a studio, took the drummer and recorded the live drums there. Brought it back and started recording with Stephen and Ziggy Marley. We went to the studio in Miami and it was just, I mean Stephen Marley is not only an artist he is a producer. Just to have him there, to have him as a tool, because he can do all of this by himself. But to have him to say “hey, we can do this, you should try this” and feel out your way. It was a joy. It was a joy. Finally they are on a Morgan Heritage record. We did sing a song a couple of years ago, maybe 15 years ago, it was Stephen, Julian and Damian Marley, but it was called “The Marley Brothers”. There has never been a Ziggy Marley, Stephen Marley and Morgan Heritage, this is the first so it’s a very historical record.
"Bob Marley himself said that reggae music will continue to grow until it reaches its rightful people."
RNYC: The track We Are with the up and comers Kabaka Pyramid and Dre Island. They are labeled the “Reggae Revival” and I’ve heard Kabaka say that he does not like the label. But you mention “we are the future” so what do you think of that term, the “Reggae Revival”?
MH: We had a very big discussion with Kabaka about that and people like Chronixx, and Jah9. You know it wasn’t them, it was the media that did it. One guy called Bookman, he said that this is a reggae revival and I think the media took it out of context. All he said was that this was a reggae revival, he just meant that reggae is rising again. Because you can only revive something that is dead or unconscious.
Reggae is here, reggae is alive. When we came on the scene Luciano was there, Garnett Silk was there, Buju Banton was there. And then you got Freddie McGregor, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, all those guys are there. We didn’t come to revive anything you are just new to the block.
Then when we was on the block you had SOJA come on the block, you had Gentlemen come on the block, you had Pressure Buss Pipe, you had Munga, you had Alaine, you had Tarrus Riley, you had Rebelution. All these guys came, they didn’t revive anything, they just came on. For some reason all the artists in Jamaica that came up, everybody started saying this is the reggae revival movement. Cool, but that means at some point if you were revived there is a change that you are going to die. Reggae can never die.
Today Bob Marley is out selling all of us. That shows that you can never die, because his music lives forever. We had that talk with Kabaka even in Texas a couple of months ago and he said he hates the thing. All they are coming to do is to add to the foundation of what reggae has already been. It’s going to continue to grow and grow and grow. Bob Marley himself said that reggae music will continue to grow until it reaches its rightful people. That's a fact and we have seen it. Now you have Korean reggae artists, there are Chinese reggae bands, there are Argentinian reggae bands, there are bands from California, there are bands from Florida, there are bands from New York. There is reggae from everywhere so we cannot just hug it around and say “reggae is mine” reggae belongs to no one, reggae belongs to god. He is the creator of all mystical things and music and energy and emotion. That thing we call emotion so the music is real and it belongs to the people. You are going to see a lot more reggae artists rise up from around the world. Working with Kabaka and Dre Island, you felt the new energy and that swag. Kabaka is an amazing songwriter, you know lyrically. To work with him, he sent back the verse, and he works so fast, by the time we sent him a track, boom it was done two days after. I was like this guy is going places.
RNYC: He’s very fast ,but he is also good about putting it out there. He doesn’t saturate the market.
MH: One thing about these Rasta, a lot of people call them our children.
RNYC: I think part of where that term came from is from yard, from Jamaica. Because there was a huge dancehall blow up there and reggae was somewhat forgotten and Kabaka and Dre Island and the likes of Chronixx and Jah9, they succeeded overseas almost first and then in Jamaica. Do you feel that you are leading them in that way, because you had that overseas success all around too and you did it smart, not just go make shows and disappear but a continuation of a fan base?
MH: 95% of the reggae revival are our children. It was us that they studied. There are other artists that they studied of course, but the entrepreneur spirit and wanting to do your own business and develop you craft, they studied us. Most of the musicians that play with Chronixx, Protoje, all these bands. They used to take our CD, when we put out our first live CD in 2000, that was 17 years ago, that a child. 17. They took this CD, it was called Live in Belgium, where we recorded it and they would study this in the Edna Manley school of music, which is a music school that most of the musicians went to in Jamaica.
They would sit down and study this band called Morgan Heritage and out of this when they all graduated they all started joining reggae bands. Chronixx man, you can research this and even when we met Protoje he was like “yo, we love the item we have been studying you.” Chronixx said the same. We became the standard, like how Steel Pulse was the standard for us. We wanna be like that. There were artists in Jamaica in the bands that when they saw Morgan Heritage, it was like we want to be like them. That’s what it became. They have testified and said it to our face. They haven’t said it in the media, probably not, maybe one or two, and said you guys inspire us.
Even the studies or Rastafari are very intelligent. For a long time in the 50’s and the 60’s Rastafarian Jamaicans couldn’t read so they didn't really study. It was just based on knowing that Marcus Garvey said “look to the East for the coming of a black king” and that was His Imperial Majesty so that was a sign like boom, this must be the man of that Davidic throne. Because that throne goes all the way back to Jerusalem to David, that blood line found its way to Ethiopia, from the Queen of Sheba. I can’t make this up. The Queen of Sheba went to Jerusalem. Meet Makada, they made beautiful love and she went back. She sent her son and then asked “Send me back my son” and he sent her a ring. This is the history, check it out this is the history. It’s one mystical connection, so it is what it is, we are happy about our work, happy that we were able to inspire a next generation. Because you can’t ask me what does it mean to a Rasta and I just look at you and say “Rasta just vibes you know.” No I want to convert, how do I get there, you have to spread the word or tell me what is it, right? It's a thing that you find once that happens that you have to study and then we started to study. Then started to find a roots in Jerusalem and Ethiopia and learned that we have to be baptized on that Christian Order of Ethiopia. We started to make sense out of inspiration or something that you feel. Because if it’s not theorized out, there is no ideology. Because ideology can be that everybody that wear black shirts with Reggae In NYC on it are the “Reggaeites” and then everybody is going to do the same thing. What are the facts and then we started putting some of those facts on record. If you listen to the album call more teachings we talk about the Keba Nagast and we started talking about certain books that you don’t hear about everyday.
RNYC: There was some recent CCTV News coverage about your work with young artists in Africa. What are you looking to do? Are you looking to bring in some of those young artists, not just the ones we mentioned but to lead in the entrepreneur and business way.
MH: Absolutely and just to help them to help themselves. Empower themselves. We are not looking to take over anything, because we know what that is like, we have been through that. There is a lot of knowledge of this business that we have, that a lot of them don't have and we don't want to see them make the same mistakes. Because that is going to hold back the genre, it’s going to hold back the progression of reggae music. There are a lot of things that are in reggae music business that are not up to par with the music industry standard. I was born in New York, raised in Brooklyn and Springfield Massachusetts and I have a lot of the American ways of business. I know how to structure. Shaggy has that same type of thing by having that American experience.
When we went to Jamaica we were very organized in our work ethnic. It was like “man these guys are animals.” We were like “go get it done, 1,2,3” it wasn’t like “yah mon”, “soon come, easy.” We had to learn some of that too. Sometimes you can lose the vibes and the authenticity of the music because that is what people feel in the music. We had to slow down. We had to calm down when we got to Jamaica. Go pick some ackee off of the tree, sit by the river and enjoy the nature and just become one with Jah with the energy. If we can balance those two, I think reggae would be the number one music on this planet.
RNYC: Tell us about any upcoming tours or summer plan?
MH: Upcoming you know most of the stuff that we are working on now is the Summer tour. This Summer we are playing in New York at the Jerk festival including Barrington Levy will be on that show, Konshens and Ken Boothe. It's a very nice show. The show is on His Imperial Majesty’s birthday July 23, so we are excited to play that show and we wanted to make it a show case, we are going to be inviting a lot of our executive friends to come down there and just and enjoy the culture, eat some jerk, fish, some rice & peas and listen to some great reggae music. A living legend like Barrington Levy does not get enough credit as well.
We have St. Lucia coming up, in two weeks, but its really about promoting the new album. We are king of slowing down after, because we could tour everyday, there are not a lot of bands that tour like Morgan Heritage, check it out for yourself. We go hard, I mean seven days a week and most artists can’t go seven days a week, because their vocals need rest. I’m talking multiple platinum-selling artists. John Legend is a friend of mine, but he can’t go seven days because he get sore, he needs two days to work, two days to rest.
It’s about promoting the album. I got my own jerk sauce that I will be promoting more in New York City. Its called Gramps Morgan Farms. Follow us on Instagram. I am also launching my own CBD oil company, because I don’t smoke marijuana but I do believe in its medicinal purposes. One of the biggest reasons that I don’t smoke marijuana is because I like to kiss and it makes people’s breath stink, so I just choose not to smoke it but I do believe in its medicinal purposes. Because I have seen it for myself. So look out for us on social media right now before we launch, its called Masaya CBD.
My son Jemere Morgan, he is coming up and hopefully we can have you sit down with him. I put him out on tour with J. Boog, which is another artist that I helped to discover. I did his first album, well his second album, but his first one internationally. I have my own label called Dada Son Entertainment, which I helped to expose him to the world, kind of different from the beach band California, to explode it outside. He did me a favor and brought my son on tour. He heard the work that my son was doing, and was like “yo, I want to take him on tour.” He took my son from the Morgan family Jemere and he took Stephen Marleys son, Jo Mersa Marley and they went on tour in January to sold out audiences. Shocked all the booking agencies, shocked all the media, people were like “WOW”. They sold out 2,500 people in California. I know a lot of artists in reggae that cannot do that. They can’t even draw 200 people. To see that happen we see that the future is going into good hands. The music is spreading and that’s a good thing.
The name of his album is called Transition, which we are still promoting. He is talking about going from being a boy and transitioning into being a man and that is a serious history because a lot of people don’t make it. They get too hype and stop listening to their parents and his testimony is going help a lot of children, I believe. Continue to finish promoting him as an artist and get him established. That is a very important part of getting established the next generation for the family. We got a couple of other artists as well, Mojo’s son is signing, Peter’s daughter is singing, I have another daughter that is singing, but she is more into gospel, going to try to get her out. I let her know reggae is gospel too. The next generation is coming. But we have high standards. It has to be right. Other then that I say go to school, focus on college. Don’t think just because you see you dad singing you can, you better be good.
Jemere is the focus of our label Cool To Be Conscious Music Group, so continue to focus on that. Promote the album Avrakedbra and just let people know that reggae is alive and well man. Because there is a lot of people in the main stream that listen to dancehall and think that dancehall is reggae. That's the new kind of reggae. It’s not, reggae is still being made. It’s just that we got to get the message out there, so there is work to be done.
Thank you for establishing Reggae In NYC, because reggae in New York is not strong the way it was in the 70’s. Everybody is into many different styles, you got EDM. EDM is like the new disco and disco was huge, Studio 54, Madonna, Michael Jackson and all these guys used to come and party. But now we want them to know that reggae music is alive. There are still reggae artists. Not dancehall artists like Bounty Killer and Beenie Man and Shabba Ranks, that's dancehall which is like rap for America. You have R&B, you have rap, you have reggae and you have dancehall. They need to be separated, its very important.