La Doña de San Francisco plots her post-COVID path – NBC Bay Area


In early 2020, Cecilia Peña-Govea, the singer-trumpeter from San Francisco who performs under the name La Doña, was to see her musical career explode. She had glossy videos, a new album, a crack band, and a list of nationwide tour dates slated to catapult her music to the next level. Then came the pandemic.

“I’m kidding 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 debut EP, “Algo Nuevo” was released in early March 2020, just as the United States was bracing for what was to become prolonged slumber. La Doña’s career landed in the purgatory of music.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Peña-Govea said wistfully. “My concerts were canceled, my sessions were canceled, my tours were canceled. So I wasn’t sure how to move forward, what could I even do?”

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

“La Doña sort of sums up 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 Mexican regional music were the soundtrack of his childhood, mixed with the folk music of his mother. His original songs lamented the grief of San Francisco – as tech workers displaced longtime Latino and black families. Then, as the pandemic burned the economy, she watched newcomers flee the city.

Yet even with the cessation of her own performances, Pe̱a-Govea still found salvation in music Рfocusing her energy on writing new music and her work of teaching virtual music lessons to elementary school children. As the pandemic came and went, she did what she could, waiting for the day when La Do̱a could pick up where she left off. Pe̱a-Govea was not only the performer, but the songwriter, manager, booker and even video editor.

Joe Rosato Jr.

La Doña performs at Yerba Buena Gardens in July after more than a year after her musical dreams were temporarily shattered by the pandemic.

“I have 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 is just a pride, there is a very strong connection to the rich culture, the music and the food and the way people are with each other.”

Last July, as the vaccine rollout led to an easing of Covid-19 restrictions, Pe̱a-Govea and his band Рwhich includes longtime friends and Father Miguel on the accordion Рtook to the stage in Yerba. Buena Gardens for a free weekend concert. In front of a celebrating crowd, La Do̱a roamed the stage, confidently browsing a music ensemble that enveloped the traditional music of his youth in a veneer of modern textures.

“I think my ethnicity influences a lot the music I make,” she said, “and many types of collaborations that I like to get into.”

In August, La Doña hit the road again, hoping to make up for the lost year, returning to live performances and symbiotic exchanges with an audience – how her music was meant to be lived. She heard from fans who said her music helped get them through the pandemic. Now she’s hoping that will propel her trajectory towards the dreams she was already aiming for.


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