I must admit, I first happened upon this gorgeous songstress in a fellow natural's Fotki folder. I had no idea who Goapele was, but I admired her style, and of course her hair. I Googled her, and instantly fell in love with her music. Although she has appeared in Marie Claire, VIBE, Entertainment Weekly and Billboard, it was in 2001 at the very beginning of her career trajectory that an editor at a small time underground Bay Area newspaper summed it up the best, "Her vocals shatter souls.” Her album Even Closer was AMAZING! After seeing the Essence video of her stylist braiding her hair, I had to reach out to her.

Wanda Sykes Style

CN: Have you always been natural? What's your hair story?

Goapele: I've worn my hair all different types of ways in my life. When I was a kid, I wore a low natural fro as well as braided styles. My parents wouldn't let me straighten my hair until junior high, which is when I started pressing it. In high school, I finally got a perm. I must admit it was fun to wear it straight, but I didn't really like how it felt—damaged and dry. So in the 11th grade, I cut my hair off, into a short natural. I had worn it that way before, but it felt really bold this time. It was before a lot of other girls were doing it, so it was a big deal. The TWA was fitting for me, and a couple of years later I started growing my locks. I wore locks for years— twisting them into little spirals, and wearing them with head wraps until finally they were long enough to do more interesting styles. I played with different colors as well, and really enjoyed them for a long time when I decided I wanted a change and cut all of my hair off again. This was a few years ago, around the same time I got pregnant… I went back to a short natural.

I felt really bold and cut it into a short little mohawk and then realized that I wanted to grow my hair back out to experiment with some interesting braided styles, similar to how I wore my hair in elementary school. It always feels like it takes forever, but my hair grew out really quickly. Anana Scott, my stylist back then, did thread wrapping, so I started seeing her again. Braids and thread wrapping… that's what I've been doing the past couple of years. Sometimes, I give myself a break and wear twists.

CN: So Anana Scott is your stylist now? The one featured in the Essence video?

Goapele: Yes, she's based out of Oakland and is my main stylist for the most part.

CN: A reader would like to know where she can find the thread used to wrap your hair in the video?

Goapele: [Laughter] I don't know. That's something that she brought with her… really, you can use any string or thread and just be creative with it. I wove ribbon in my hair when I wore bigger braided styles and it worked just fine.

CN:Have you always been a natural hair lover? If not, how did you come to embrace it?

Goapele: I haven't always liked my natural hair. At different points it's been like a love-hate relationship. The easiest hair style I've ever worn was the super-short natural… all the way cut off. There was hardly any maintenance unless I wanted to color it or tint it every now and then. It was the most carefree hairstyle, but I grew bored. I like to be experimental with my hair, which is why I grew it out, but I haven't always loved it and I don't always love it because it's such high maintenance. I spend a lot of time combing my hair through, conditioning it, and sitting in a chair for 10 hours to get it braided. And sometimes, I definitely feel like it would be fun to have straight hair, but I feel that my natural hair makes me feel more like myself. Like what you see is what you get.

CN:What is your hair routine? How often do you do it?

Goapele: Once a week or every couple of weeks I'll wash, condition, and deep condition. Even when it's braided up I still condition with oils and moisturizing lotions to keep it healthy.

CN:How often do you do your own hair?

Goapele: I mostly have someone else do my hair. When I had locks, I cared for them, except for the times I needed a break or wanted to achieve a style that I wasn't used to doing. In the beginning, when I was growing my hair out, I was doing my own braids and twists. But for the tiny braids and all the parts and thread wrapping, I could never do that myself.

When I'm wearing tiny braids, I prep my hair at home and then go in to see my stylist—it can take up to 10 hours. I keep them in for two weeks if I'm lucky, and wear my hair in twists or bigger braids for a week or more until I get it done (tiny braids/thread wrapping) again. I don't really wear it loose, every now and then, I'll do a twist-out.

CN: How do you keep your hair protected and healthy while in braids? Do you ever wear it loose?

Goapele: I always wrap my hair up at night with a satin or silk scarf, no matter what style I'm wearing. I think that really keeps your hair a little smoother. I also keep it well-conditioned.

CN: What's the best thing about being natural?

Goapele: For one thing, I don't get too stressed when it rains. Not as much as I did when I had straight hair. It doesn't always feel as luxurious as when I had straight hair, but I like that it really feels like me and I'm representing myself. And I like seeing that in other people too. Whatever their style is, you feel like you're getting a sense of who they are, by looking at their hair. But that changes and evolves as we do. So who knows what I'll be looking like in a couple of years.

CN: What would you tell a woman who has yet to embrace her natural curls?

Goapele: When you're ready, be brave. You'll get used to it. It is a shift and I think it can be a little scary at first, but it is truly liberating.

CN: Who is your natural hair inspiration?

Goapele: One of my first natural hair inspirations, I would say is Miriam Makeba. I like that I'm seeing a lot more people rocking natural styles.

CN: It's becoming more of a norm.

Goapele: Yeah! I mean even throughout entertainment. So I'm appreciating that, I feel like I'm seeing all different kinds of styles and people are keeping it interesting. There's a lot of women now—Janelle Monae, Lalah Hathaway, India Arie, Amber Rose, Angela Bassett—providing inspiration for us all.

CN: Do you read hair forums or YouTube for style ideas, care advice, or product recommendations?

Goapele: Not really. But I know there are a lot of great products out there. Carols Daughter, Kinky Curly… I feel like there are way more products for natural hair than I ever noticed before. All the oils, sprays, and gels, instead of just like hair grease.

CN: How do you feel about that? The attention natural hair is getting and the larger companies getting in on it?

Goapele: I think that it's still good. I think that as a small business owner it can be challenging to present good hair care products and still be able to compete with larger companies. But at the same time I think that hair care products natural or not, should be available to everyone. And sometimes the price points of the smaller boutique brands, which have really good quality ingredients, can be quite high. It's important for everybody to have access to natural hair care products. So I can't hate on the big companies for doing it too. Also Carol's Daughter started as a small company and has grown into one of the largest-—that's exciting and unusual.

CN: Your skin is unbelievably clear. Share your regimen!

Goapele: I use Dermalogica pretty faithfully, the Cleansing Gel and the Hydrating Lotion. I wash and moisturize my face at least twice a day and when I wear a lot of makeup, I never go to sleep with it on. I remove it with makeup remover and then proceed with my regular regimen. Also, I think that we eat shows up in our skin. So eating as healthy as possible and drinking water instead of sodas always helps. I actually notice a difference when I'm not eating as healthy—I feel that my skin doesn't feel as smooth.

CN: Tell us about your upcoming projects and ventures!

Goapele: Check out Goapele.com. There's always new information about shows I'm doing. I'll be getting out to a lot of different areas really soon, so keep checking back. Also the Milk and Honey album will be coming out soon—I'm expecting to release it in the spring of 2011. You will probably be hearing new music before that, though, so keep your ears out for the 'Right Here' single I just did with Drama Boy.

CN: What would you like to say to the CurlyNikki and NaturallyCurly communities?

Goapele: Rock what you got. We all have our own styles, so just be sure to pull yours off with an inner confidence. Whatever you feel the most, just go there. The older I get, the bolder I become—I express myself as a woman through my music, my fashion, and my hair.