The creative landscape is changing. Technologies like Pro Tools, the iPod, and peer-to-peer networks have become mainstream in the digital age, creating a wild frontier of sorts in music. Independent artists can reach mass audiences once forbidden to them. These technologies are fostering the rise of “semiotic democracy”—where more and more people are no longer passive consumers of mass media, but active participants in creating culture. Cops vs Lawyers, Issue 3

الأحد، تشرين الأول ١٠، ٢٠٠٤


-by Folklore

Mispronunciations aside, Oakland vocalist Goapele [Gwa-pa-lay] has been timesharing ears with Okayplayer songbirds Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Meshell NDegeocello, and Jaguar Wright for a season or two. Year-’round, she manages Skyblaze Recordings, the label she co-owns with her brother Namane; and together they’ve scored a national distribution deal with Sony.

Goapele means “to go forward” in the South African dialect of her grandmother, Tswana. The 27-year-old South African and Jewish artist has lived up to her name through the strength of some local airplay of “Closer”–the first single from her debut album Even Closer: a foray through the phenomena of life, love, and politics. She built her skill by way of the Oakland Youth chorus, the Berklee School of Music in Boston, and her brother’s deejay/production crew Local 1200.
In 2001, Goapele toured internationally with Spearhead, and appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. In 2002, she introduced some uncharacteristic crooning to the hip-hop audience on the Hieroglyphics’ footlong “Soweto.” In 2003, “Closer” lit up the Honey OST soundtrack. Now, in 2004, she’s on the cover of SHOUT! Magazine. What could possibly be next for this rising star?

SHOUT! At what point did you realize that music would be your career?
Goapele: I would say as a child. I thought about it when I was a little girl. I watched people at live shows, musicians, singers, and dancers on stage. I listened to a lot of albums that my parents had, my own music, and music that my peers were getting, and I felt like that’s what I wanted to do. And not just to be a singer, but to be in the arts, and singing was one of those things.

Describe your own music with any pertinent influences.
I write songs from a lot of my own experiences. I’ve been influenced by a lot of different music from South African jazz and soul to hip-hop to rhythm & blues to all types of different music, and I’m just trying to create music that I feel, and it doesn’t really fall into a category. But you know people interpret it in different ways when they hear it.

How does your family influence your musical career? I understand that your brother is your manager, so how is that situation as opposed to a strictly professional relationship?
It’s the only situation I’ve ever been in to be honest with you. It’s the way that I started so I don’t even have anything to compare it to. But I do work closely with people that I trust and we share a vision, and I’m thankful that that’s my experience and introduction into the music business.

Discuss the transition from the initial indie release–which I guess sold like 3,000 units–to a Columbia distribution deal with extended advertising and guest financing. How does that change your resources?
The 3,000 copies is what we initially sold in the Bay Area before we even started our own record label when we were selling the EP at live shows and at Amoeba and Rasputin. Then we decided to start our own label called Skyblaze Recordings and got national distribution with the support of Hieroglyphics. And we actually sold about 65,000 independently–mainly in the Bay Area and in California, but also throughout other parts of the US. We just did a deal with Sony in December I guess, and then they re-released the album. So Even Closer has continued to sell since then. I haven’t noticed that much of a change; the music definitely has stayed the same. We added one remix on the album of “Childhood Drama,” which we just weren’t able to release before. Probably by being involved with Sony, we’ve gotten some more financial backing that has made touring and costly things like that a lot more accessible, but I couldn’t tell you about any dramatic changes. I’m working on an album now that will [release] on Skyblaze/Columbia, that will just start coming out in that way [nationally distributed].

What would your career highlight thus far be?
Getting to meet other artists [which] I greatly admire [who] are aware of my music and support it. That has been really special to me. Getting to see the effect of my music on other people that I may not have known that I would touch, or would even be into what I’m doing. It catches me off guard sometimes and feels like a blessing, and I feel like I’m doing music for more than just my own enjoyment, so that feels good.

You previously mentioned Hieroglyphics, your brother was a DJ and you started singing over hip-hop instrumentals, and you said a certain portion of your fans might not have heard of you if it weren’t for “Soweto”. So you’re bringing in people from different genres. What’s your relationship with hip-hop?
I see myself as part of the hip-hop generation before hip-hop was so popular, and the all-ages events that I was going to were hip-hop events. Even in youth activism, I feel like hip-hop as part of the youth culture was very present. I feel like it’s a lot of my generation’s music, and I would associate myself with hip-hop even if I didn’t do music that had any emcees on it. I think hip-hop’s a combination of old soul music and hard-hitting drums that go way back to African drumming, although it’s changed so much in the music today. But I think even jazz, which has been sampled and had also influenced hip-hop. I think a lot of different music is related, and it’s one of the [types of] music that I relate to and incorporate in my own original music.

How do you feel about the responsibilities of being a full-time artist–maintaining or just submitting to a public persona? You’re now seen as Goapele the singer, as opposed to just another person.
I surround myself by people who know me as a person, and try not to get too caught up. I think I’ve always been a pretty self-aware person, so I may feel more responsibility and feel like I’m representing a little bit more when I make my decisions. But I’m pretty much making the same decisions; I just have more opportunities to do different things now.