Hispanic Heritage Month

San Francisco's La Doña Charting Her Post-COVID Path

"La Doña really kind of encapsulates a lot of different types of music," she said, "It's just who I am." 

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In early 2020, Cecilia Peña-Govea, the San Francisco singer-trumpeter who performs under the name La Doña, was set to watch her music career blow-up. She had glossy videos, a new album, a crack band and a list of national tour dates set to catapult her music to the next level. Then along came the pandemic. 

"I joke about it, but it's not that funny," Peña-Govea said from the backyard of her Oakland home. "I call it the guillotine of my career." 

In a cruel twist of timing, her first EP, "Algo Nuevo" was released in early March of 2020, just as the U.S. was tucking-in for what would become an extended slumber. La Doña career landed in music's purgatory.  

"I didn't know what was going to happen," Peña-Govea said wistfully. "My gigs were cancelled, my sessions were cancelled, my tours were cancelled. So I didn't really know how to move forward, what I could even do?" 

Peña-Govea's entire life had been a runway for her musical flight. She and her sister Rene grew-up in San Francisco's Bernal Heights playing in the family band, La Familia Peña-Govea, lead by her parents Miguel Govea and Susan Peña. She was a product of environment, soaking up the Latinx sounds and culture of San Francisco's Mission District -- running them through her own prism of modern influences like reggaeton, hip-hop and hyphy. 

"La Doña really kind of encapsulates a lot of different types of music," she said, "It's just who I am." 

She came of age embraced by the sounds of her grandparents' native Mexico. Salsa, cumbia, ranchera and regional Mexican music were the soundtrack of her childhood, laced with her mother's folk music.  Her original songs lamented the heartbreak of San Francisco - as tech workers displaced longtime Latino and Black families. Then as the pandemic scorched the economy, she watched the newcomers flee the city.

Yet even with her own performances shut down, Peña-Govea still found salvation in music - focusing her energy on writing new music and her job teaching virtual music lessons to elementary school kids. As the pandemic ebbed and flowed, she did what she could do, waiting for the day when La Doña could pick up where she left off. Peña-Govea wasn't merely the performer, but the songwriter, the manager, the booker, even video editor. 

Joe Rosato Jr.
La Doña performs at Yerba Buena Gardens back in July after more than a year after her musical dreams were temporarily dashed by the pandemic.

"I've always been impressed by her, by her talents," said father Miguel Govea, whose lifelong journey through regional Mexican music began with his childhood in Bakersfield.  "In our case there's just a pride, there's a really strong link to the rich culture, and the music and the food and the way people are with each other." 

This past July, as the vaccine rollout lead to a loosening of Covid-19 restrictions, Peña-Govea and her band -- which includes longtime friends and father Miguel on accordion -- took the stage at Yerba Buena Gardens for a free weekend concert. Before a celebratory crowd La Doña prowled the stage, confidently running through a set of music that wrapped the traditional music of her youth in a veneer of modern textures.

"I think my ethnic background informs a lot of the music I make," she said, "and a lot of the types of collaborations I like to embark on." 

In August, La Doña hit the road once again, hoping to make up for the lost year, returning to the live performances and symbiotic exchange with an audience -- how her music was intended to be experienced. She's heard from fans who said her music helped get them through the pandemic. Now she hopes it will propel her trajectory forward -- onward toward the dreams she was already aiming for. 

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