Born Goapele Mohlabane in Oakland, CA, this singer grew up in a socially conscious and politically active family. Her mother married South African political exile Douglas Mohlabane while studying in Nairobi, Kenya. At an early age, Goapele attended the Berkeley Arts Magnet School where she led a pre-teen peer support group. She also became involved in various groups and organizations that combated racism and sexism. It would be these extroverted activities that assisted her singing career as she would also sing at community functions. In high school, Goapele sang in the Oakland Youth Choir and became part of a semi-professional music group called Vocal Motion. Upon high school graduation, she attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where she studied music theory. She also began developing her songwriting skills during her post-secondary education. In the summer of 2001, Goapele was signed to Skyblaze Recordings and completed her debut album.