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La Doña in San Francisco, in a Pandemic: ‘All The Horn Players Had to Be Behind Plexiglass’

Emerging Mexican-American femmetón singer-songwriter La Doña’s new album, Algo Nuevo, dropped March 12 via Human Re Sources just as the coronavirus pandemic intensified in the U.S. Concerts, festivals and other large gatherings across the country were canceled, including her planned South by Southwest debut, interrupting her early career momentum.

As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be regularly speaking with La Doña — whose real name is Cecilia Cassandra Peña-Govea – to chronicle her experience throughout the crisis. (Read the previous installment here and see the full series here.)

It’s been a while since we last spoke. What changed for you these past weeks?

Well I was part of the Solidarity for Sanctuary virtual [and audience-less] concert that aired Sept. 26 and it was my first production in a really long time. It was down in L.A. at The Ford and it gave me an idea of what shows in the future can look like and it actually put to rest a lot of the fears I had about being on set again with other musicians that aren’t like my housemates or my partner. It made me feel motivated and inspired again.

I know you have been very careful about going back on set so what was it about the production that made you feel safe and ready to go back?

I really appreciated that they had testing sites set up for us and everyone had to get tested within a certain timeframe just a couple of days before the shoot. And we were getting the results like the next day or same day so that made me feel safer. Also, everyone had to wear masks aside from when we were performing. All the horn players had to be behind plexiglass and they had routine disinfecting of equipment. Everyone was just on the same page when it came to safety.

(Below, watch La Doña cover Selena’s “Si Una Vez” alongside L.A.-based artist San Cha.)

You’re also teaching online classes this school year. I know you had mixed feelings about e-learning so how’s that been for you?

We started classes the beginning of September so I’ve been teaching again for like three weeks now. It’s been really hard to teach students how to play trumpet over a webcam. You obviously can’t hear the kids well or help them tune their instruments or check their postures because, according to the San Francisco Unified School District, you can’t require them to turn their cameras on so there’s a lot of limitations. So instead I like to focus on warming up, and we do a lot of stretching because I know sitting on Zoom all day is not good for you so I get them up and moving. At the end of the day, it’s helped me because I’m able to be in contact with the kids and it also helps them to have more outside contact.

How many days are you teaching and how many students per class? 

I’m teaching four middle school classes and then three elementary school classes from Tuesday to Friday. My smallest class is around three kids and the most is 30 kids in a class.

A few days ago, San Francisco announced the Jam permit, which would allow local businesses to apply for the ability to play amplified music and have live performances in outdoor spaces. But state restrictions prohibit singing, shouting, or playing wind or brass instruments. Does it feel like progress and moving closer to you being able to perform again? 

Right when COVID-19 hit I thought, “Well, I’m a singer and a trumpet player so I’ll probably be the last person that goes back to work.” It doesn’t surprise me that there are limitations on brass or wind instruments. But also, do I have confidence that the state or city will provide resources or oversight to take this next step safely? Not really. So for that reason it’ll be a while until I play at a venue again with a live audience.

I will say that I’m playing at an art and culture pop up that is happening this weekend in San Francisco. They asked me to play and I said yes but as long as they create a barrier for me and the people in the audience. There are ways to do live performances on a smaller scale. I just think my performances will be limited with a live audience and, if there is an audience, it will include people that I know and trust with my safety because it’s still too high risk to do it otherwise.

Are you planning on releasing any new music this year? 

I’m finally feeling more wind beneath my wings so I definitely want to release two new singles by the end of the year. On Oct. 26, I plan on releasing the song I wrote for Sean Monterrosa, and I’m hoping to release another song in late November just cause I’m already thinking that there will be political and social unrest during that time and I want to put out something for people to dance to at least.

Coronavirus

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