During her introduction for Meryl Streep, Viola Davis pretty much confirmed what I always believed to be true. “The role of an artist is to make someone feel less alone.” I’m actually a living testimony.

College days weren’t that fun for me. I was insecure, confused, shy, angry to a certain extent. During that time, I turned to the one thing that I knew could never hurt me: Music.

Music became a home of sorts.  

It was the place where I could find comfort, truth, humor (at times), and life. In a time where I felt alone, music was the one thing I could rely on.

Two artists in particular coaxed me through what I call the “Dark Ages” of my life. First, Amel Larrieux whose song “Infinite Possibilities” cut me deep like it was the biography of my life and the person who I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing, Oakland-based R&B singer Goapele, who is performing at World Café Live this Sunday.  

She means more to be than you’ll ever know. Besides “Closer” being one of my favorite songs of all time, her team graciously allowed me to come on board to promote her first show at World Café Live back in 2013. It’s now four years later and we had so much to discuss. We talked about Whitney Houston, what her song “Closer” means to people, and her new music that is set to be released at the end of the month. Check out our conversation below.

Evon Burton:  We have a favorite album in common. I’ve seen you in past interviews talking about carrying the first Whitney Houston album around when you were little. Can you let us know what that album meant to you?

Goapele: The records I listened to were my parents’ records. So we’d find stuff bond over like Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin. And I think Whitney Houston was the first album I got to own being able to choose my own music at about 10 years old. And it was my first concert I went to that was of my choice. Her voice was just so powerful. When I became a teenager and started performing, it’s like my influences switched more to underground hip hop and also Prince, Bjork, and others. I never thought it would come around full circle and work with her on Sparkle.

You mentioned your hip hop influence. In “neo soul,” you have embraced underground hip hop more than most. How has hip hop influenced your sound?

I think there is a rawness and a realness especially in the 90s rap era. I loved the old soul samples that were used. I loved the driving basslines and that you can hear the drums that you could hear from cars driving down the street. I love to feel the music. It’s fun to combine that influence with beautiful chords. With working with the live musicians and singing over it. I like the contrast and juxtaposition.

Do you think R&B and hip hop have blurred too much?

When it comes to genres, too much is only because in the music business it’s about marketing. As a music person, I know I don’t like being confined to genres. When I write a song, I want to express it in the best light. That means it calls for different suggestions and even sometimes throwing in jazz chords or something more obscure. Most artists love music much more than we’re characterized.

Who are you listening to?

I like Frank Ocean, Sampha, Big Sean, Bobby McFerrin…

Did you like Solange’s new album?

Mmhmm. I did.

It was very reminiscent of you and your era. I loved the album but a part of me felt like it was very Amel Larrieux and you.

I take that as a compliment because I listen to “Cranes in the Sky” like crazy. It does have that kinda vibe to it. It doesn’t fit in any category.

Neither did “Closer” when it came out. I must ask you about the song and also thank you because that song got me through some of the hardest times. I always knew I had a calling but for me and others, it served as a reminder.

What a compliment.

I mean… I can go into how Anderson Street got its name from “Closer” because I sought shelter through your music. I must thank you for that.

Thank you so much. I always appreciated your energy. I saw your appreciation from the audience and people have no idea how that goes. Anyone that records music is doing for the purpose of sharing it with the world.

When you recorded “Closer,” where were you in your life?

I was writing my own music, working on an EP. “Closer” was the last song for the project. I didn’t know what audience I would have. I was just starting to perform. I was just singing over hip hop beats at parties and galleries. I was singing backgrounds. I was still working a day job and I just felt like I was at the brink of something. And I finally am going to get myself out there and I don’t know if I’m going to be successful or if I’ll fail but I feel like something’s gonna happen and I think it’s something I can do. I didn’t write the lyrics down. It felt like a demo just to record a vibe. It was at a home studio. I had the intention of giving it structure and rerecording it but it was so an authentic vibe that we decided to keep it. I thought it would be an introduction to an album but it’s what people gravitated towards so let’s just do it as a single. It was only because people gravitated towards it.

I first saw your video on BET and the big news is that they have gotten rid of Stephen Hill, who was the last piece of music on the channel. What do you think about the current state of BET and Black music in terms of mass media.?

People are finding out about stuff via social media and stuff in the atmosphere. The programming and the support can’t be relied on anymore. It’s sad to see it go but for independent artists such as myself, we have to get creative and put it out there.

I’d love to hear about your new music.

The new EP is called Dreamseeker. It’s a part of me that’s still seeking out living my dream and each place I get to, there’s farther that I want to reach. It’s a part of me reaching my roots. I got to work with a lot of folks in the Bay Area. I did a duet with BJ the Chicago Kid, a sensual song called “Secret.” I did a song called “Stand” that’s speaking to the times and the need to stand up for something because if we don’t we’ll fall for anything. It’s vibey and I think it will resonant with my followers.

You’re queen of setting a vibe so…. When can we expect the album?

It will be out at the end of the month. Keep your ears and eyes posted. We’re shooting some visuals too.

We’re giving away two tickets to her concert which is happening at World Cafe Live on April 23rd at 8pm! She’ll be performing some of her old favorites as well as new cuts from her upcoming EP Dreamseeker which is due later this month.

How can you win the tickets? Just enter your full name, e-mail address, mobile phone number, and social media handles in the form here. One name will be chosen at random. The contest ends Friday, April 21st at 12 p.m. The winner will be notified by phone and/or e-mail.

We’re also hosting a private meet-and-greet after the show for all Anderson Street Neighbors in attendance. If you’re going to be there, e-mail us at by Saturday, April 22nd at 5pm. 

InterviewsEvon Burton