Yet, while the Oakland native and former Berklee College of Music student has continued to grow as artist and live performer in the eleven years since her debut, Goapele is also known as a savvy businesswoman.
Not content to be merely another singer lost in the machine, Goapele’s follow-up recordings Even Closer (2002) and Change It All (2005) were released through majors in conjunction with her own independent label Skyblaze. “I like being more hands on when it comes to my music,” Goapele says of the family owned independent label. “Establishing Skyblaze allowed me to have a more direct connection with my business as well as the music.”
While Rolling Stone magazine once called Goapele the “spiritual love child of Sade and D’Angelo,” her searing voice can be both sensuous and serious, often on the same song. After taking off six years from recording, Goapele has returned to the forefront of the music scene with Break of Dawn, a collection of sophisticated songs dealing with love, loss and all the life in between.
“One of my goals for the newest project Break of Dawn was to be more uninhabited,” Goapele says. “I came into this business as a young woman who wanted to be taken seriously for my music, but, now I’m more willing to share my sexiness as well. I realize that it’s possible to be both complex and provocative.”
As a perfect example of Goapele’s more sensuous side, her first single “Play” is like a hot bubble bath overflowing with synths and passion. "I was working with producers Electric Thunderbolt, Dan Electric and Teddy Thunderbolt, and they started a little vibe with the synths and drums. I just liked it so much I was ready to get into the recording booth,” Goapele says. With sizzling rhythms that are subtle, sexy, but nonetheless funky, one feels as though Goapele is whispering lustful secrets in your ear.
“Milk & Honey,” produced by Bedrock, is another sleek, sexy song that helped set the tone for Break of Dawn. “Bedrock and I worked together on the last album, and when he started working on the music for ‘Milk & Honey,’ I knew that was the direction I wanted to go in.”
Recorded mostly at Zoo Studios in Oakland, Break of Dawn digs deep while honestly revealing the many layers of experience that defines Goapele, from the birth of her daughter to the death of her father as well as a close friend.
“When I began thinking about the kind of disc I wanted to make, I felt as though the world was open,” Goapele states. “My musical foundation was already in place, so I could experiment and try new things.” As one of the earliest songs recorded for this project, the title track is the perfect anthem of perseverance in an ever-changing world that we have no control over. “I chose Break of Dawn as the title, because for me it represents being able to face challenges while still moving forward. After recording ‘Break of Dawn,’ I felt that through the good and bad things that have happened in my life, these were the experiences that led me to where I am today.”
Produced by multi-instrumentalist Malay, who has worked with John Legend and Big Boi, the self-empowering song has a vibe that matches the Goapele’s personality perfectly. “Both the album title and the song represents a new day and yet another opportunity to live the life we want to life,” Goapele explains. “This is what keeps me inspired and motivated.”
Collaborating with an array of creative folks including Kerry "Krucial" Brothers, Bobby Ozuma, Malay and Bedrock, this is also the first project Goapele has worked with other songwriters. “Writing lyrics has always been such a personal process for me, but for Break of Dawn, I decided to take some of the pressure off of myself,” she says, laughing.
Songwriter Carman Michelle teamed-up with Goapele and producer Krucial to help compose one of the album’s most heartfelt songs “Hush,” a beautiful lullaby written for her four-year-old daughter. “For the first time I felt I didn’t have to do everything myself.”
Another emotionally charged track is “Tears on my Pillow,” a sorrowful song that explores death, abandonment and separation. Produced by Bobby Ozuma, “Tears on my Pillow” is a hard-hitting soulful song that explores Goapele's more bluesy side.
Growing-up in Oakland, her politically activist parents helped Goapele develop her musical taste by taking her to countless concerts. “Both of them loved music, so we’d go to shows,” Goapele says. Her father was a politically exiled South African who knew many of the musicians. “They were often friends of the family, so they would let me go on stage to sing and dance with the backup singers.”
In addition to attending concerts as a girl, Goapele went to a performing arts elementary school. “My big influences were Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Prince and Bob Marley.” As a child, Goapele also attended a lot of rallies and leadership conferences with her mother.
“Music was always a part of the program and I would be called upon to perform songs by acapella group Sweet Honey in the Rock,” she remembers. “But, I will admit the first album I ever owned was Whitney Houston, which I carried around with me everywhere. My brother was the one who turned me on to rap, because he always played EPMD and Run-DMC.”
After graduating from high school, Goapele attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she auditioned by singing the Lena Horne classic “Stormy Weather.”
“I went to Berklee, because I wanted to have a better understanding of both the creative (singing, songwriting) as well as the business side,” says the former voice major. “I even performed in a James Brown ensemble group so I could be pushed out of my comfort zone.”
Indeed, a little bit of the James Brown/Prince vibe comes through on the hypnotic-funk of “Money.” As the last song recorded for Break of Dawn, she says, “Although I’m a naturally laidback person, I felt I need a song to kick up the tempo a little bit. Malay played me a funky bassline and we just took the song from there. The subject of money is stressing out so many people these days, but I wanted folks to realize it’s not more important than relationships with other people.”
After a six-year hiatus, Goapele returns to the limelight with perhaps her most diverse and exciting project to date. Without a doubt, the beauty, tenderness and joyful music on Break of Dawn will make your day.