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Goapele Live: All Work, No Play

Get to know Goapele.


As my Assistant Editor and I sat in the dark club, waiting for our food and intern to arrive, we gushed about how much we wanted to hear Goapele sing “Closer” and “Play” live for the first time. It was exciting. Like many fans, we are highly supportive of studio recorded albums, but we see eye to eye when it comes to concerts. We know and agree that there’s absolutely nothing like it. The live experience is one of a kind, and even with as much as the music business has changed and continues to change, this portion hasn’t. Fairly, we cannot see how it ever will. Nothing can or will replace the feelings and memories created when you’re in the same room as your favourite artists. Besides their vocals for which you bought a ticket, you’re bound to hear (s)he breathing heavily on a custom-made microphone or a loud and violent sneeze mid lyric like a regular person! In due course, your worldly problems recede your hairline. Because of the atmosphere, you easily forget yourself for a moment and you’ve gained the blue-ribbon experience of exploring romantic wrinkles and voluminous pores that pay rent to live on your musical deity’s face. You know, those types of humanistic facial features that your forefather concertgoers secretly shared with you as if they were Sade’s Sweetest Taboos? Shit, and if you’re close enough, you might become a fleshy human towel for someone’s bodily excrement fleeting from the moving body of your soon-to-be former husbands (or wives). It’s great!

*If you’re a heterosexual male reader who’s really interested and obsessed with the way women look, even when mentioned hypothetically, please feel free to insert “hot girl with no strings attached” in place of husbands or wives. We totally get you.

When we were raving about going to see Goapele, some of you were completely lost. You didn’t know who she was, so here’s something written for you in mind:

If you’re not thoroughly in the know about Goapele, that’s okay. She’s an Oakland native and former Berklee College of Music student who has been more than just a “neo soul” singer by definition. The singer also injects trip hop, lieder, jazz and contemporary R&B tempos, breaks and influences into her sound. Her name means to “move forward” in Setswana, a South African language. You’d think that that’s all to Goapele, but it isn’t. She’s politically active like her parents. Her father, Douglas Mohlabane, was an exiled political activist in South Africa and her mother, a Jewish Israeli from New York named Noa, who attended protests since she was 12-years-old met each other in Nairobi, Kenya and married. As a child, she was exposed to rallies and leadership conferences that she’d attend with her mother. She’s been awarded for her human rights work by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights located in Carolina. It was their first ever Human Rights Cultural Hero Award. She’s released four studio albums since 2001, and has had great unwavering support from her family. At the moment, she listens to J. Cole, Justin Timberlake, Little Dragon, and Meshell Ndegeocello. “I listen to a lot of different stuff,” says the eclectic songstress.

The sampler arrived and so, did, the petite woman with mountainous coils that is our intern. She’d been at a video shoot prior and she was ready to unwind, so I gave her my drink. It was a Mango Champagne which consists of the fruit’s puree and vodka and peach schnapps. My Assistant Editor was in the mood for something small, red, berry-like and acidic, so she ordered a “Sex On Bubbles” which also consisted of peach schnapps, stoli vodka, chambord, champagne and cranberry. Our Taste of The World Sampler was a platter of grilled linguica, pasteis, chicken passarinho, codfish cakes, garlic shrimp and fried plantains — enough for three to nibble at after 7PM. We eat dinner before 6.

When she walked on stage, it was an hour later than we expected but it didn’t matter much as soon as we laid eyes on her. She glowed from head to toe. She wore short blond, her shirt read “P-L-A-Y” in big white letters, she wore fitting accessories, and she didn’t look a day older than 25. Quite frankly, our stomachs were full and we were in good company. She was worth the wait. We asked if her shirt was apart of the items on her merch table, and she told us it was not. Rats!

At the very end of the show, we were asked to wait fifteen additional minutes to speak with Goapele. Who seemed to be real-life fans waited too to give her a bouquet of flowers, handshakes and kisses. Things that president would do, if he were visiting victims in a hospital. At least, that’s what it felt like.

Finally, we made it to the interview area.

When asked if she’s going to be around longer this time, she replied “Yes, I am.” The following day, she played in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and a fest in Atlanta to follow with Snoop, Amel Larrieux, Goodie Mob. She added that she’d play in Charlotte and Annapolis, too. We’ve been playing her new album Break of Dawn more than any set of human beings should listen to any body of music, so we had to ask her about her process and what this album means to her.

Goapele's "Break of Dawn" album cover

According to the Bay area songstress, Break of Dawn is “an empowering album for women” that shows range of emotions. Specifically, being vulnerable, bold and playful. “That’s really what I wanted to experiment with this time,” said the 36-year-old Oakland-based soul singer-songwriter.

At times, as fans we hope for artists to reply with intricate answers when talking about their music inspirations and Goapele was no exception. Simply, she credits “the music” itself as being her inspiration as a songwriter.

I like to approach songwriting like I’m singing something that was already there and sometimes, it takes a lot of effort and sometimes, it’s effortless and I don’t have to think about it. It just comes out and it just fits like a glove, and that’s what I look for.

She talks a little bit on why she cut her hair,

It’s been some kind of cycle that I’ve kept up for a long time. Since childhood, every now and then, I’d get it cut off and have it short and natural. It always feels vulnerable at first, but it also feels free. So, I always end up coming back to that at some point.

GrungeCake. I don’t know but I say the music that I do — when I’m in a creative mode — and production mode building with people I like to keep it pretty and gritty so I imagine it’s something like GrungeCake,” she explained when I asked what comes to mind when she hears the name of the publication.

Approaching the end of our time with Goapele, she was visibly tired. Seemingly, we were the last bunch to talk to her. Her patience was solid until her manager tried to take a second photo of us altogether. “That’s fine,” she told her manager when she tried to snap another.

Overall, we enjoyed ourselves. Our food was delicious, our drinks were chilled and we had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with someone who makes music that’s apart of our lives, as much as it is for her. For as long as we have been fans, it was a pleasure to witness her raw talent on stage and in-person. It meant a lot for us, and we’ll forever hold onto that memory. Special thanks to Biz3 and SOBs for making it possible, in the fashion that it did.

For more Goapele, just click here. If you loved the songs as much as we do above, support the artist and click to buy the album.


Written by Richardine Bartee

Her unprejudiced love for people, the arts, and business have taken her this far. Join Richardine on her journey as she writes history into existence, one article at a time. Richardine is a member of the Recording Academy/GRAMMYs, and a GRAMMY U Mentor. She is the North American Press Agent and US Business Manager for Oxlade; Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.


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