For over a decade, Peetah’s distinctive voice has led Morgan Heritage on some of the biggest anthems in modern roots-reggae, including Don’t Haffi Dread (To Be Rasta), Down by the River and She’s Still Loving Me. But in the chest of this Rastaman beats a heart of soul.
The charismatic vocalist says he listened to everything from the 1970s soul of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway to the New Jack swing of Guy and gangsta rap of Dr. Dre, when he was growing up in Brooklyn, New York.
Now, he gets the chance to play out those influences on his first full-scale solo project.
“It was nothing planned. We got a call from (producer) Salaam Remi last year about Gramps, Mojo, and myself doing individual songs for an album he was doing,” Peetah explained. “The song I did (Salute Them) came out so well; I just got to thinking about doing something for myself.”
That ‘something’ is totally different from the rootsy songs ‘Heritage’ have belted out since the late 1990s, making them household names among reggae fans in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
“It’s going to be more hip-hop and dancehall with some R&B overtones,” Peetah said.
Peetah worked with Shane Brown of Juke Boxx Productions on most of the songs, one of which includes the world beat-ish Save The World which gained steady airplay on Jamaican radio. Brown, one of reggae’s upcoming producers, is best known for his work with Chuck Fenda, Busy Signal, Mavado, and Morgan Heritage.
The two plan to complete as many as forty songs by the end of February, 2009. They hope to release several of their productions in the first quarter of next year to get Peetah’s solo career off and running.
The dreadlocked singer is quick to point out that it is not the end of Morgan Heritage.
“It’s something we’ve (Morgan Heritage) discussed as a group. People know the group but don’t know each member as individuals. It was a collective decision to do some solo work,” he said.
Peetah was born to make music. He is one of Jamaican singer Denroy Morgan’s over twenty children and was born in Brooklyn, the New York City borough that has been home to thousands of Jamaicans since the 1960s.
Even though he and most of his siblings were born in the United States, Peetah recalls a strong Jamaican vibe in his household.
“Our parents raised us like Jamaicans. It was Americans at school but once we were home it was all about being Jamaican,” he said.
Peetah remembers his parents keeping the Jamaican music vibe alive in the home by playing the music of Toots and the Maytals and The Heptones, but says as a boy he was never consumed by Jamaican music. He was into the genius of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway and later discovered the smoothness of vocal group Guy, and the funky West Coast beats of Dr Dre.
It was not until 1995 when new-wave roots singer Garnet Silk died in a mysterious explosion at his mother’s home in Manchester, Jamaica that Peetah found his reggae calling.
“I started listening to a lot of reggae when Silk passed away. There was just something about him,” he recalled.
Peetah admits writing songs without the rest of the Morgan clan has been the toughest aspect of his solo effort. “Just thinking about going out there by myself is nerve-wracking,” he said.
But come 2009, he is confident the butterflies would have long left his stomach. Enough for him to embark on his most ambitious venture to date.