Though she may be comparable to artists like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, this singer-songwriter is definitely holding her own in the musical world. Goapele, hailing from Oakland, California is no longer a stranger to stardom and as fans chanted her name at Harlow’s Nightclub on J Street in Sacramento, it was clear her music has touched the souls of many.
Goapele (pronounced gwa-puh-lay), means “to move forward” in Setswana, a South African language. Moving forward seems to be a theme in her work and after releasing her fourth studio album, “Strong as Glass”, she has come forth as one of the top neo-soul artists to date.
Goapele said she has gotten stronger. From her first album “Even Closer,” released in 2002, to her latest project, she has become a better person and a better artist. She has even expanded out of the neo-soul genre to something more.
“I would describe [Goapele’s] projects as soulful,” said Nicole Landry, 34, who was in attendance at Harlow’s on Dec. 5. “I know people are quick to group her as a neo-soul type of artist but, I don’t think she fits in that box. I think her sound is bigger than that.”
Goaplele found success with the help of local radio stations in the Bay Area. Her music was first played on college radio and public access channels but once “Closer” the first single from her debut album, was broadcasted by 106.1 KMEL, she was closer to her dreams; as the song goes.
Community is also very important to Goapele. She is community-oriented and wants to make a positive change. She comes from a family who understands and knows the history of people being mistreated and divided and she wants to help bridge that divide through her artistry.
“Art and music has always felt like the most natural and enjoyable way for me [to create a positive change],” said Goapele. “The overarching thing is, I want to bring [people] together in the community and have some kind of positive impact on the world.”
During the intimate show at Harlow’s, Goapele took a moment to discuss some of the tragic news that has been sweeping through the nation, and said it needs to stop. As everyone cheered in agreement, she named Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner and Mike Brown and sang a heartfelt A Capella rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come”.
The crowd fell silent in respect for lives lost.
They listened in awe of Goapele’s vocal talent. As the crowd sang along to every song before and after the tribute, one could tell it may be difficult to pick a favorite Goapele song.
“I’ve been a fan since I first heard “Closer” in 2002,” said Landry. “You can’t just have one favorite song. I mean of course there is ‘Closer’, but then there’s ‘First Love’ and ‘Play’ and ‘Romantic’ and I’m sure there are many more that I would jump up and say ‘That’s my jam.’”
Rolling Stone has called Goapele the “spiritual love child of Sade and D’Angelo”; that description is one most could agree with and with a child of her own, Goapele seems to be all about love, spirituality and empowering the community, especially women.
“I think so many of us [women] take on the weight of the world and are holding so many things together in our day to day life,” said Goapele. “I think a lot of my music is about that contrast, that I’m not just one way and I don’t think anybody is. I think that we are all complex and it’s OK to be strong and it’s OK to be weak.”
Now in the national spotlight and with a platform to support positive changes in communities, in people’s hearts and women empowerment, Goapele is ready for the challenge. She says, it feels intimidating, empowering, exciting and overwhelming, all at the same time.
“At the end of the day, I’m just trying to rise to the occasions that life gives me and do what I do best. One of the goals I reach for is [to evolve] and that is something I wish for everybody,” said Goapele.