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La Doña in San Francisco, in a Pandemic: ‘It Feels Like Everything Is On Hold Again’

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 speaking with La Doña — whose real name is Cecilia Cassandra Peña-Govea – every other week to chronicle her experience throughout the crisis. (Read the latest installment here and see the full series here.)

What’s changed for you over the past weeks?

What I’ve been thinking a lot about is how my employment will look like for the rest of the year and next year at the San Francisco Unified School District. In a normal school year, I teach nearly 300 kids at various different schools that have mariachi and SF Jazz programs. The district announced that it will be practicing social distance learning, so in most cases that means that school’s aren’t going back into session. And, a lot of the music programs I work for have received funding at least through the winter semester so we’re just trying to figure out what kind of educational experiences we can bring to these kids. What can we do to engage kids or bring creative education to them at this time?

Last time we spoke, you were preparing to perform at Sean Monterrosa’s memorial July 12. What was it like to perform live again in front of a crowd?

You know it felt so good. It felt like just the way I was raised to think about music and its role. Which is not just to perform and be onstage but to do that with a lot of intentionality. I’ve always been very radical so it was empowering to have a stage where I can send a strong message and not feel like I would alienate my crowd if I talked about police brutality, gentrification or all of these more radical or militant ideas. Those messages were received so well and we were all on the same page. I hadn’t played in San Francisco in a while so to do it the way I wanted to do it, which is performing in my neighborhood where I was born and raised, it just felt so special. It also reaffirmed something that I’ve always known, which is that I will always be a community artist. I will always want to serve my city and the people that need my support first before I can speak selfishly about my individual artistic promotion.

There’s this saying that I love that says “don’t invite me to the revolution if there’s no dancing.” I come from a long line of organizers and we always like to party too. We think that if it’s not fun, then it’s not worth it and if it’s not politically impactful then it’s also not worth having fun either. Those two go hand in hand.

How long was your set and what are some of the songs you performed at the memorial?

I had a 30-minute set and the family requested I sing “Nada Me Pertenece” because it talks about the impact you make in your life and what your legacy will be. It felt so powerful to sing it there because Sean passed away but he’s left a legacy of radicalism and community organizing. He’s left a movement behind. I also sang “Cuando Se Van” which is crazy to sing in Bernal Heights which is one of the most gentrified neighborhoods in San Francisco and sing it to people who understand it and live it. I was crying in like almost every song.

We’re now four months into the live music shut down, what’s going through your mind?

Honestly, the conversations [with my team] have been very hard. There has been a lot of change because most of the people in the music industry are like completely flailing around while our industry tanks. Everyone is just under an immense amount of pressure. Most people on my team that had steady employment have been let go from their jobs within the music industry. It’s been a time to heal personally so I have not really been in too much contact with my team about the trajectory or what we should be doing. Everyone is just trying to keep their head above water at this point. I haven’t talked to them in like two weeks. This is a hard time for everybody, including myself. If there’s loss of communication, that’s part of this crazy life. It feels like everything is on hold again.

Coronavirus

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