Rising Star: Goapele Sings A Happy Tune
The Bay Area has been producing some of the most original artists for decades, Oakland native Goapele’s star is rising fast as the most recent to break out of the East Bay’s independent music scene.
The R&B and soul songstress has been known to locals for quite some time as she’s been a regular on the Bay Area airwaves and stages for the past 11 years with her style that has been likened to Sade, Erykah Badu and a host of other artists with a unique sound.
It’s been three years since Goapele, pronounced Qua-Pa-Lay, has released a new single let alone a new album, yet her much anticipated new single “Hey Boy,” from her fifth studio album, Strong As Glass, dropped June 23 has surprised and delighted fans.
Goapele’s hometown fans will get to see her perform “Hey Boy,” Saturday night when she headlines EDEN San Francisco’s five year anniversary Signature Party during San Francisco Pride Weekend.
The “fun, flirty, retro” single, as she describes it, diverts from her usual soulful tunes filled with lyrics about sociopolitical change, steps back in time to the goodtime upbeat tempo R&B hits of the 80s.
She hopes Bay Area fans will dig her new sound as there will be more of it in her new album set to be released sometime this fall under her new label Jordan House/Primary Wave Music.
“I finally recorded a couple of tempo songs, which I’m really excited about because I feel like I got to do some fun feel good songs that I enjoy dancing to,” says Goapele.
“When I first started doing music I felt like it was important that I say something because in mainstream music we are not always allowed to have substance in our music,” says Goapele, about her younger years feeling as if she had to make a statement, but now that she’s laid the foundation she’s ready to let loose.
“I should be able to express other sides of myself. I can let down guard. It’s okay to be sexy too. It’s okay to just have fun sometimes too,” she says.
Goapele loves performing for her fans in the Bay Area because it’s her home and because of the blend of different types of people.
Her shows generally attract an eclectic crowd who come out to have fun and are able to be who they are no matter what their background at her concerts, says the singer.
“I feel like, you’re having fun and you came to have a good time and there is a safe environment for who you are. That doesn’t always happen,” says Goapele, who is excited to perform for EDEN’s mostly female audience. “I’m thankful for that that my audience is wide and that everyone seems to respect each other.”
Makings of a Songbird
Goapele’s music has had a worldly influence within and without since before she was born. The Oakland native and her brother DJ Namane Mohlabane were raised in a culturally eclectic and political astute household by their New York Jewish mother and their South African father.
Their parents met and married while her anti-apartheid political activist father was in exile in Nairobi, Kenya.
The couple eventually settled in Oakland, another hotbed of political activity during the civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and youth movements of the 1960s and 1970s, where they raised Goapele and her brother.
Goapele’s name encapsulates the spirit of her family. Goapele, her South African grandmother’s maiden name, literally means “to move forward,” in the Southern African Setswana language.
Politics was mixed with music. Inside her home her family listened to Sweet Honey and the Rock and Nina Simone along with South African musicians Hugh Masekela, Zulu Spear and Miriam Makeba, who was banned in South Africa at the time. Outside her home she was introduced to independent hip-hop, R&B, rap and other style of music that informed and influenced and eventually she took and made into her own music.
“There’s such a cultural mix going on in the Bay Area,” says Goapele talking about political and musical movements that took root in the Bay Area and that influenced her way of thinking and being in the world, including her sense of style and music while she was growing up. “It’s such a mix of different people coming from different parts of the world and different parts of the country.”
“It’s given me a broad perspective and just a broader view in everything in life and music,” continues Goapele about how the movements and music lyrically affected her. “It wasn’t just songs about love songs. It was songs about resistance and carrying on tradition and even songs that I didn’t understand but just felt good to me.”
Feeling good is where Goapele is heading with her new album. She hinted that her forthcoming album is “more personal and it’s just more on the different perspectives of love.”
“I feel like you can’t get to the light without getting through the dark and you can’t experience joy without being honest and getting through the hard places,” says Goapele, about the journey she takes her audience through with her music.
“At the end of the day I want to feel good. I want to feel joy. I want to feel uplifted. I want to feel inspired. I imagine other people do too,” says Goapele.
It’s also the journey she takes, describing her musical journey as, “Ever growing, ever changing,” she says, borrowing a quote from Bob Marley.
“One of the messages that I’ve always tried to reflect is: I am growing and evolving and I’m strong and vulnerable. I kind of share that with everyone … through different lyrics in my music,” says Goapele. “I feel like by showing that we are complex as women it gives other people permission to also be themselves and be their whole selves no matter what. We don’t have to just be defined by any stereotype as women.”
Goapele also hasn’t allowed her art to define her either. She has been spreading her wings since she headed to Los Angeles a few years ago from the Bay Area.
“Music is the soundtrack to our lives,” says Goapele about how she listens to music to get her through difficult times, when she wants to feel “bad ass,” and when she simply wants to feel good. “Music reflects our lives and our lives reflect music.”
Right now the soundtrack of Goapele’s life is the rush of newfound love and rising fame.
Goapele leapt from the music studio into the film studio appearing in Sparkle (+UltraViolet Digital Copy), Whitney Houston’s last movie in 2012.
“It’s been kind of an organic transition getting into you know acting through music,” says the singer about her emerging acting career. “It’s a different world and a new challenge and it’s exciting to get into different forms of creative expression.”
The self-described fashionista is also dabbling in fashion design too, so who knows, the ladies might be sporting her global fashion wear with her label on it in the near future too.
“It’s exciting to get into different forms of creative expression and fashion has always been exciting to me,” says Goapele.
Music is her heart and her life’s true passion, so for her forthcoming album she forced herself to move out of her comfort zone in order to grow and stretch herself to “try and raise my game a little” as a part of the “evolving journey.”
She’s thankful for her family who supported her music career helping her to start out independently as a grassroots artist by launching her own label, Skyblaze Recording, which she produced Closer, Even Closer, and Break of Dawn, and her community that helped her build her fan base. She’s appreciative of Oakland, which provided examples of independent artists and The Zoo, an incubator for independent artists and producers where she recorded Change It All.
These influences provided her the insight into the music business that has allowed her to create more of a partnership with her label.
“It was empowering for me and I felt like I already had a voice,” says Goapele, who appreciates the direct connection she has with her fans because of the musical path she took.
Spreading Her Wings
Goapele isn’t a Facebook or YouTube star, it took many years on the road performing to build her following, but she was used to that traveling around after spending her youth traveling to youth empowerment conferences around the U.S. Her journey’s continued beyond the borders of the U.S. after setting out from the Berklee College of Music to pave her musical path.
She loves where the road takes her once she gets there, but she isn’t too fond of changing time zones, the inconsistencies that come with travel, and all of the time spent on airplanes, busses and trains, she says, which is why her 7-year-old daughter doesn’t travel with her as she used to.
All the trials and time spent getting to a destination vanish once she arrives.
“I like traveling, especially when I get to meet good people and eat good food,” says Goapele, who always scopes out the neighborhood strolling through it to smell the air and get the “vibe of that place,” searching for the best food and checking out the street markets when she gets to a destination, she says.
When she’s looking for culture and good food she looks no further than heading to New York or Paris.
“I love how vibrant it is and I love the culture there,” says Goapele about New York.
She loves Paris’ “natural edge,” she says.
Next on her destination hit list for culture and food is Japan.
“I want to go there for the food, fashion and people’s passion for music,” says Goapele.
When she wants to relax and just be in a beautiful place she heads to Hawaii.
“It’s one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I’ve been,” she says.
She always looks forward to going to Amsterdam and Holland for the openness of the people there.
“I just felt that people were really open minded [in Amsterdam and Holland],” says Goapele.
When she wants to see family she returns to South Africa and the Bay Area.
Goapele will be performing Saturday, June 28 at EDEN SF V’s anniversary Signature Party at Mezzanine, 444 Jessie Street, San Francisco. The party gets started at 9 p.m. – 3 a.m. with a midnight Champagne toast. Pre-sale tickets General: $25 / VIP: $35.
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