Soul and R&B songstress Goapele graced Harlow’s stage Friday night to treat fans to a repertoire of new songs from her recently released album, Strong As Glass.
While known for her sensual vocals and smooth melodies, Goapele’s live shows are as electrifying as any performance. Goapele and her accompanying band kept the audience swaying with soulful riffs and raw instrumentals. Every note emoted passion. Every beat was potent.
Goapele first came to the scene back in early 2000s, and as a Bay Area artist, she’s no stranger to Sacramento stages and events. Friday’s show was sold out and the line of fans who waited afterward for photos and autographs included folks who knew Goapele as she was coming up in the local music scene.
“I’m really excited,” she said during an interview before the show. “It’s nice to see people again, I’m getting to a few spots I haven’t touched down in a while.”
Sacramento was one of her last stops in Northern California before heading to the East Coast for the second part of her tour.
Strong As Glass
Goapele said her new album Strong As Glass maps a person’s journey through the various phases of love -- from the joyous highs to the painful lows.
“This album is … [the] heart, soul, and mind of a woman,” she said.
Strong As Glass stays true to the neo-soul genre (a sub-genre of R&B), the singer is known for. But there’s also a surprising sprinkling of uptempo songs.
Even Goapele is quick to not put herself into just one category. She said she’s influenced by too many different styles of music -- jazz, blues, reggae and hip-hop.
“I try not to pay too much attention to the genres and just do what I feel,” she said.
The list of songwriters and producers who worked on Strong As Glass boasts music industry heavy hitters, including music producer Keith Harris and singers Estelle and Eric Benet. Goapele said she has known Benet for years and they’ve always wanted to work together. This project was a chance to do that.
“He is easygoing and quick with melodies,” she said. “I enjoyed getting to go back and forth lyrically with him.”
Goapele said the album was a lesson in collaboration through the songwriting process.
“In my first couple albums, I wrote all the lyrics and you know, pretty much based on my life or what I was going through,” she said.
But this time around, Goapele worked with other artists, learning about their perspectives and experiences.
“So that was a little different for me and just kind of finding myself in each song … [It] was a fun opportunity for me to explore,” she said.
Empowerment And Fun
The title track of the album, Strong As Glass, sends the message of empowerment. Goapele said the first time she saw the lyrics to the song, written by Grammy Award winner Estelle, she got chills.
“As a woman, there are days when I feel empowered and strong,” she said. “And there moments along the way where I feel like I could breakdown.”
The song tries to capture those dichotomies using the image of glass.
Cause I'm only strong as glass
They say I'm built to last but I could break
Yeah I'm only strong as glass and I am all I have so if I break, there's no more
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the album’s first single “Hey Boy” -- a flirty and fun anthem also written by Estelle and featuring Snoop Dogg. Goapele said she wanted songs in the new album that fans can both cry and dance to.
“I wanted to have those songs that just feel good,” she said. “What I liked about ‘Hey Boy’ was also that it had kind of a retro feel from live instrumentation.”
Goapele’s mother is Israeli Jewish from New York and her father is South African. That background, along with her upbringing in Oakland, has helped to mold her into an artist who uses music to talk about issues within a community.
Many of her songs speak to current events. It was no surprise that during her Friday show, she took the time to address the turmoil around the country after grand juries in New York and Missouri declined to charge police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Goapele belted out a powerful rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” evoking both pain and hope. It’s the type of song anyone can wish to hear to during times of tumult -- when there seems to be no end in sight to injustice, violence or protests.
When Goapele was rounding up tracks for the album, she said she looked for a song that spoke beyond the personal experience of love. In light of the unrest over the summer in Ferguson, Missouri, Goapele said she wanted people to think.
“I wanted a song touching on what was going on nationwide ... the intensity of violence but also how I feel like youth from inner cities lives have been undervalued and diminished,” she said. “I just wanted something that was going to hit people in the heart. And make them think before they take a life.”
That’s where the song Perfect came to be part of Strong As Glass. The track was produced by Sacramento native Trackmatik. And while the lyrics could be interpreted as merely a personal experience about fighting for a relationship, it’s also a call to action -- to stand up for one’s beliefs.
“It was definitely inspired by the statistics in Chicago and Oakland over the summer and thinking about how police are killing youth,” she said.
Working with Trackmatik is just one example of how Goapele strives to keep her Northern California roots alive. She lives in Los Angeles now, dabbling into other projects like films and acting.
But when asked (as anyone who has moved between Northern and Southern California is always asked) which part of the state she prefers, Goapele looks to the north.
“In my heart the Bay Area will still be home,” she said. “As I travel, it kind of makes me appreciate the community vibe and the multicultural aspect of the Bay Area.”
But, it’s also important to get out and have experiences outside of your hometown, she said.
Among Goapele's band members is backup singer Jessica Jolia, a Sacramento native. Learn more about Jolia and her music here.