Morgan Heritage Offers 'More Teachings'

On "More Teachings," venerable reggae troupe Morgan Heritage offers its signature "One Love" lyrics over a blend of richly varied musical influences that will please loyalists while also courting a

On "More Teachings," venerable reggae troupe Morgan Heritage offers its signature "One Love" lyrics over a blend of richly varied musical influences that will please loyalists while also courting a wider, more mainstream rock audience.

"More Teachings," due today (March 13) on VP Records, "continues to convey our message of love and peace," says band member Una Morgan. "In 'Same Old Song,' for instance, we emphasize universality. Life here in a Jamaican ghetto is the same as in any other ghetto. The same blood is shed everywhere."

The cut "Teachings" continues that message, "forefronted by the teachings of Rastafari," Una Morgan says. "Everyone understands and feels love in one form or another."

Lead singer Peter Morgan adds, "We put stereotypes to the back and character to the front. It's about who you are, [and it's] not what you look like. Mankind on a whole has to hear the same thing over and over again."

The message of "More Teachings" is announced in the lively set-opening call to righteousness "Ready or Not," as well as in the confessional statement of "Jah Seed." Elsewhere, love and righteousness shape the history lesson that is "Meskel Square," not to mention the achingly sweet "Down By the River." In all, "More Teachings" was assembled with a keen, sensitive ear for dramatic structure.

Morgan Heritage's five members are drawn from the 29 children fathered by famed reggae singer Denroy Morgan, who scored an international pop smash in 1981 with "Anything for You." In addition to Una, Peter, and group founder Roy "Gramps" Morgan, the act features percussionist Memmalatel "Mr. Mojo" Morgan and guitarist Nakhamyah "Lukes" Morgan. Every element of the band's business is handled within this close-knit family: management, writing, production, and the running of two indie labels -- the Jamaican-based Heritage Music Group and New York's 71 Records.

All of the Morgan children were born in New York, where Denroy relocated from Jamaica in the early 1960s. During the week, they lived in Springfield, Mass. Weekends were spent studying music and recording their compositions in their dad's Brooklyn, N.Y., recording studio.

"We were always aware of American culture," says Peter Morgan. "But home was like Jamaica. Springfield is close to the countryside, like Jamaica. We even had chickens running around our yard in both places."

Morgan Heritage had just begun performing professionally when it was signed to MCA Records. It had previously released a 1989 R&B set, "Growing Up," in Japan, and its MCA debut, "Miracles," came in '94. Though the group had grown up with many music genres ("Gramps" Morgan cites Stevie Wonder, Van Halen, and Kenny Rogers as favorites), it roots were firmly established in 1970s reggae.

From the outset, MCA wanted to focus more on the act's pop leanings than its reggae roots, initially opting to market Morgan Heritage as reggae's Jackson 5. It was an idea that was quickly abandoned. In 1995, the group followed Denroy Morgan back to Jamaica. Since then, Morgan Heritage has found an authentic musical voice, steadily soaring in popularity since it switched from MCA to VP Records.

Morgan Heritage's most popular effort to date is 1999's "Don't Haffi Dread," an album bolstered by a title jam that took the group to international pop music's front lines. Morgan Heritage built on the momentum of that hit by issuing "Morgan Heritage Live" in Europe that same year.

Although VP is best known for its dancehall compilations, the label is enthusiastic about Morgan Heritage's aim to reach beyond the reggae audience.

Randy Chin, the label's VP of marketing, is quick to note that Morgan Heritage is among the few reggae groups to successfully bridge the generational gap between Bob Marley reggae loyalists and "newer-conscious" dancehall fans.

Chin says, "Their music is rooted in fundamentals of reggae, yet they have a new, interesting, melodic sound."

Morgan Heritage's most persuasive bid for the modern rock listeners will be its planned dates on summer 2001's Warped tour. The group will squeeze those dates into an already packed spree of touring that will see the band on the road for much of the next six months.

"The oppressed people of the world feel their voices aren't being heard," says "Gramps" Morgan. "We also want to reach the rock'n'roll crowd. The message of Van Halen or Creed is similar to reggae and some hip-hop artists. People know what Huey Lewis & the News went through to survive in their careers. It's a similar story to what Morgan Heritage is going through.