Updated December 05, 2011There was a time in decades past where R&B and Soul singers would regularly address social and political issues. Back in the 1960s and '70s, artists such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke and many more tackled such complicated issues such as war, drugs in the community and even environmental issues.
Those days are pretty much gone, however. Many contemporary R&B and Soul artists prefer to focus on relationships: love, lust and sex are the three staples of many singers' repertoires these days.
Activism in MusicA big exception to that, however, is Goapele.
On both her debut CD, 2002's Even Closer and second national release, 2005's Change It All, she's sung about love and relationships, but has also tackled numerous worldly subjects, such as politics. But she doesn't just talk to the talk, she walks the walk, as well.
Her Change It All album - and specifically the title track - were borne from Goapele's unhappiness with the outcome of the 2000 and 2004 political elections. It also led to the creation of ChangeItAll.org, a site on which Goapele (pronounced gwa-play) and her independent music label, Skyblaze Records, encourage and promote community and political activism.
Humanitarian AwardShe's become so well-known for her activism in fact, that at a ceremony last Thursday (Sept. 14), the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights presented Goapele with its first-ever Human Rights Cultural Hero award.
"It feels good to be appreciated," Goapele told About.com in an exclusive interview the day after receiving the award. "I feel the entertainment industry is so inconsistent - there are so many ups and downs - that the award came at a really good time."
The Ella Baker Center, which gave Goapele the award as part of its 10th anniversary celebration, is based in Northern California's Bay Area, as is Goapele, so there's a degree a familiarity between the singer and organization. And she said that makes receiving the award even sweeter.
"I know them and they know me, so (the award) feels authentic. We've seen each other grow and prosper."
Making the World BetterBut throughout her career thus far, Goapele has never seemed to be about awards or accolades. Instead, she appears to be more focused on activism and music, and using music to promote activism.
"I feel like this world is far from a perfect place and all of us should play a part in making it better," she said.
She said that even if hadn't become a singer, it's likely that she would be doing something arts-related, something that would help people, like maybe a dance teacher. 'Ever since I saw 'Fame,' I just loved it," she revealed. "Or I could have easily become a teacher, working with elementary school kids." But since she's such a positive, worldly person, one might assume that she doesn't listen to music that doesn't have a political or social message. Does she?
"No. I only listen to political music," she said, bluntly. Then she lets out a hearty laugh, revealing that she's just joking. "Just kidding. Of course I listen to contemporary music. Let's see - I like Bilal, I like Kanye (West), I listen to Three 6 Mafia, to T.I. I like music in general."
What's Next?So what's up next for the singer? Well, her second album was released in December and in support of it, Goapele's been touring most of the year, including a performance in Philadelphia on the Sept. 12 opening date of the Red Star Soul tour, an invitation-only series of performances featuring R&B and Soul artists like Donell Jones, Lyfe Jennings, Angie Stone, Governor, Ryan Toby and Emily King.
And yesterday (Sept. 17), she left Oakland to visit family in Africa. (Goapele, who's full name is Goapele Mohlabane, is the daughter of a Jewish woman named Noa and South African political exile Douglas Mohlabane. "Music is really important to both of them," she said of her parents. "In my house, we listened to music all the time." )
Devoted fans might have quite a wait before she records a new album, though. Since her latest was just released nine months ago, Goapele says she's "slowly" working on new music, instead choosing to focus on traveling and touring.
But when she does eventually release a new album, you can rest assured that it will probably contain more of the intelligent, thought-provoking songs she's become known for.