The granddaughter of South Africans who lived through apartheid and German Jews who survived the Holocaust, Goapele Mohlabane might sense dangerous currents more instinctively than most people. "As Americans we can feel like we're the only country that exists. But not only being multicultural, but having my family spread throughout the world, I can't forget that we're not," she says. "I know how people can be singled out. I think now is a scary time that we're in—the way that Muslim people are being singled out is scary to me."
Change It All juxtaposes political awareness ("I wanted to open it up: How can we think differently, and if we could change things, what would we change?") with intimate emotion. Instead of being odd, the mix—with hints of Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and D'Angelo—is poignant. Clearly, Goapele is at home with contrast. "On this album, [musician and arranger] Mike Tiger and I worked on a lot of the music together and the whole theme was 'It should be pretty but gritty,'" she says. "I don’t want it to sound soft, but I want it to be beautiful."
It is beautiful, and beautifully layered, a lovingly baked cake in which the personal parts are the sweetest. Goapele evokes a different feeling at every turn, from the soulful lament "Battle of the Heart," to the giddy "Crushed Out," to the addictive "Love Me Right," a primo getting-ready song in the vein of "Little Red Corvette" or "Hey Ya." It makes you want to get dressed up to go out, simply for an excuse to bounce around in front of the mirror and sing: "I’'m not the type to holler, but somehow you know just what I like."
And then there's "First Love," perhaps the most revealing track on the album, and the one Goapele wrote most recently. The song describes how true love can sometimes be too close to see clearly, especially when you're distracted by other things: "I never thought you'd be the only one/I dreamt of fairy tales, that's how we begun/I was waiting for some magical moment that would prove to me/for ever would be fine/meanwhile my first love was standing first in line."
"It can look so many different ways when it’s right in front of you," Goapele explains. "And to be able to see it in a new, exciting way is what 'First Love' is about."
Yes, the song was inspired by her current relationship—or was it the other way around? She won't divulge details, merely saying, "When I was writing 'First Love,' it all came together." You only need to listen to know that she’s telling the truth.