San Francisco is widely considered to be the cultural capital of the West Coast. Historically, folks from across the globe have made the move to the city by the Bay to bask in its rich bohemian atmosphere full of artists, makers, movers and shakers. Over the years, as the influx of new arrivals has risen, many fear that the city has lost its essence to gentrification veiled by the guise of renovation and development—leaving natives hopeless and cynical about the future of the city’s culture.
Singer-songwriter and San Francisco native Cecilia Cassandra Peña-Govea—better known as La Doña—however, utilizes her musical gift to resist the sweeping effects of gentrification and preserve the fleeting spirit of San Francisco. Her current catalog of music consists of revolutionary anthems that champion female empowerment and queer representation as well as meditations on the increasing difficulty to maintain a life in your own hometown and the disappearing demographic of San Francisco natives.
La Doña was born in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights, practically with a microphone in her hand. She began her professional music career at the age of seven, performing in her family conjunto alongside her parents and sister all around the greater Bay Area. La Familia Peña-Govea’s music has served as the community’s unofficial soundtrack for decades as they’ve performed for countless festivals, parties, weddings, and so on.
La Doña cites her upbringing among musicians and educators as one of the most significant influences for her music. “Having the childhood that I did pretty much put me on the path to pursue my music further,” she says. “This is how I choose to contribute to my community and I’m very thankful to have been raised in a community-oriented household.”
Growing up during the rise of the Bay Area’s historic Hyphy movement has also served as a major influence in La Doña’s work. Nods to Bay Rap legends like Too $hort and JT the Bigga Figga seamlessly fused with her signature Latin rhythm perfectly encapsulate the eclectic culture that she along with fellow Frisco natives of her generation were raised in.
Tributes aside, La Doña’s music performs work on an even deeper level in which she addresses social issues that current mainstream music normally attempts to avoid.
“Taking historically significant rhythms and repoliticizing them is an important part of my project. The diasporic nature of these types of music has been depoliticized and co-opted to not have a message, especially in crossover mainstream reggaeton and pop,” she says. “But this music is a result of a lot of liberation and identity struggles, so I try to utilize this musicality in a way that addresses more substantial topics—topics that pertain to my life and the lives of the people I grew up with.”
Her bilingual single “Le Lo Lai,” for example, offers a glimpse into the life of a playerette, à la Too $hort’s classic “Freaky Tales.” In this song, La Doña flips the common narrative of the glorified player and champions sexual liberation for women—reappropriating the player trope to highlight a radical feminist perspective.
Her most recent single “Quién Me La Paga” tackles the issue of San Francisco’s impossible cost of living—a subject most city natives identify and struggle with. “I wrote this song to talk about the tensions of living here and the things we need to do just to survive here,” she says. “Everyone has a full-time job and one or two side hustles and their creative outlets, so it became almost impossible to marry all of those things and live comfortably in the city I was born and raised in.”
La Doña’s mission to keep her work authentically reflective of her life here in San Francisco is made evident in her music videos as well. The videos for both “Le Lo Lai” and “Quién Me La Paga”—songs that both will be featured on her upcoming EP “Algo Nuevo” which drops March 12—highlight the sanctity of friendship with imagery of La Doña and her homegirls either chopping it up on the stoop or partying and playing music together. Naomi Garcia, Alyssa Aviles and Lauren D’amato, who are featured in La Doña’s music videos, are close friends and close collaborators in her musical projects in providing artwork and creative direction.
As her music gains more recognition far beyond the San Francisco county line, one might think it’d become increasingly difficult to maintain a type group of friends as collaborators. Thanks to La Doña’s unwavering foundation and clear vision, however, she hasn’t had a problem with ensuring that her team remains comprised of those who understand and support her truth.
“The only reason I would want to grow in scale is so that I can cash out my homegirls who have been doing this work with me and have been down to ride,” she says. “I’ve been really lucky to not have had a problem with keeping my team the way I want it.”
While her work becomes more widely known across the globe, La Doña makes a point to remind folks that her loyalty has been and will always remain with her community in San Francisco.
“I got all of my beginnings and first words of encouragement and support from this community,” she says. “So I will always continue to work for this community and encourage people to really value the impact their art has at home.”
La Doña’s EP “Algo Nuevo” debuts March 12th at her show “Casa de La Doña” at The Chapel @ 8pm.