Reggae music has been searching a long time for a saviour. It seeks an acceptable antidote to the nihilistic braggarts offered up by dancehall, itself the enfant terrible offspring of the roots music that was once the inspirational staple of Bob Marley, Dennis Emmanuel Brown, Peter Tosh and the like.
Since Garnett Silk's death in 1994, the Tosh-influenced singer Capleton has, for most, been the torch-bearer. In the mid-Nineties he emerged from the dancehall scene with a brand of reggae as performed in its Rastafarian tradition. But there is further hope for the music, beyond the violence the media often portrays as being a necessary adjunct of the genre.
Step forward Morgan Heritage, five of the 29 children of the legendary Jamaican vocalist Denroy Morgan. Una, Peter, Roy, Nakamyah and Memmalatel gave a performance that was full of lyrical dexterity and fluency, rich with love, peace and religious intonations, once the universal themes of reggae. Jah was never far away. "Our music is a gift from God" is a favourite Heritage mantra.
This message was evident in their opening salvo, "Don't Haffi Dread", which, roughly translated, means that wearing the dreadlocks hairstyle is not a necessary add-on to being a Rastafarian. "Ready or Not" confirmed their religious leanings. With locks flowing, dressed in near-identical denim outfits, Morgan Heritage offered a sweet, meaningful collection of the kind of biblically inspired roots music that is too often lost in the maelstrom of dancehall.
"This is reggae music, people," shouted Una to the crowd. You weren't sure if he was telling them what they were listening to, or preaching to them. You couldn't blame him, either. A half-filled Jazz Café was made up of the curious, the die-hard dread and the Trustafarian. It was a motley crew for one of Jamaica's premier acts.
Undaunted, the band played on and gave far more than they received. Their energy and vocals were worth the entry fee alone, at times evoking the pleading of Toots Hibbert and the urgent emotional anxiety of Joseph Hill. And often, Una's deliciously melodic voice matched the Culture front man's for conviction and commitment.
As well as showing off their roots heritage, the family Morgan also used the evening to showcase their new album, Three in One, with the suggestive "She's Still Loving Me" followed by an impromptu heartfelt paean to the pleasures of the herb.
The expected finale, "Down by The River", from their More Teachings album, saw the group play with the audience, inviting them to join in the chorus and changing the lyrics of the song to include the words "London" and "Jazz Café". Yes, it was formulaic, but it was delivered with such gusto that you forgave them.
In all, it was a rousing performance that was sadly ruined by poor mixing. It makes you wish that sound engineers would realise that criminal volume doesn't necessarily equate to enjoyment.Reuse content