Band of the Day

2011.12.05

Goapele

A politically-minded songstress who fuses introspective soul with sensual R&B
I'm separate like a puzzle floating in space, so lost in this galaxy of life.
lyrics from Pieces

Goapele (pronounced gwa-puh-lay) Mohlabane, born July 11, 1977, is a neo-soul/R&B singer-songwriter from Oakland, California. She grew up in a South African exile community in California, after her father Douglas Mohlabane was exiled for being a political activist against Apartheid. Her mother Noa, born in New York, is of Israeli Jewish heritage. Goapele's name translates as “to move forward” in the Setswana language of South Africa. Inspired by her parent's involvement in political causes, Goapele became involved in several groups that fought racism and sexism while she was in school. After graduating from high school, where she sang in the Oakland Youth Choir and a music group called Vocal Motion, she studied music theory at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. It was there that she honed her singing and songwriting skills, before going on to self-release her debut album, Closer, in 2001. After releasing two other albums, and then going on a five-year-long hiatus, she released her fourth album Break of Dawn on Skyblaze/Decon Records in October 2011. She is currently touring in support of the album's release.

It's been ten years since neo-soul songstress Goapele (pronounced gwa-puh-lay) released her debut album, Closer. Now, the Oakland, California native is back with her fourth album, Break of Dawn. She's traded major label backing for a release through her own independent label, Skyblaze, and the result is an album that is arguably her most evolved and eclectic effort to date. It's complex and sensual, without being overly provocative. Her previously releases (like anti-war song “Red, White & Blues”) sometimes dipped into her political activist background. She grew up in a South African exile community in California, and is involved in several social rights groups. But Break of Dawn is a much more introspective endeavor. The lyrics to “Tears On My Pillow,” for instance, came to Goapele while she was in a car, so she pulled over to record them on her phone. It's a heart-wrenching number about dealing with the death of her father, where she reveals that she cries into her pillow “'cause there's no other way for me to let go.” Musically, her personal pain at this loss comes through in a vintage, almost Motown-inspired quivering organ melody. Similarly, “Pieces” explores the theme of personal loss, and feelings of being left behind. It starts with a lightly-strummed mandolin, before building up to a grooving, old-school soul beat that will have you swaying your hips and snapping your fingers to the rhythm. Goapele's croon is both sweet and vulnerable as she sings lines like, “I'm separate like a puzzle floating in space/so lost in this galaxy of life.” While these songs are emotional and deeply personal, other songs on the album take a different approach. “Money” has a funky rhythm, like an early Prince song, while “Right Here” grooves on a radiating synth and drum machine beat (courtesy of hip hop producer Drumma Boy, who's worked with the likes of T.I and Wiz Khalifa). “Break of Dawn” mixes an 80s electro-synth beat with Goapele's lustrous R&B vocals. After listening to lyrics like, “First you're here, then you're gone/Time waits for no one, I gotta move on,” it makes perfect sense that her name actually translates as “to move forward” in the Setswana language of South Africa.