Miguel Govea was calm and collected as he invited me into his home in Bernal Heights to sit down in his instrument-filled living room, where he told me about his life as a community musician in the Bay Area.
Many music parties have gone down in Govea’s living room and backyard over the years. And for Govea, watching people get up and dance to his music, and seeing them happy or sad (depending on the song) is what makes it worth it.
“I see myself as a shy person socially, but [music] allows me to connect with other people,” says Govea, who began playing Mexican music when he was a child growing up in Bakersfield with his Mexican father and Mexican-American mother.
Eventually, in 1978 at the University of California at Berkeley, while on the picket line, he met Enrique and Antonio Ramirez, and the three formed a band called “Los Peludos.” They played movement music, and some of their songs, such as “Aqui no sera,” left a lasting impression on listeners. The song told then-President Ronald Reagan to stay out of Central America. It said, “even though we’re small, we’re going to resist,” explained Govea.
Throughout Govea’s life, he continued playing the guitarrón, a large bass guitar, accordion, and trumpet, performing salsa, meringue, and cumbia music at local schools, libraries, protests, and community venues.
Now retired, he paid the bills for 35 years by working for the San Francisco Department of Public Works as a bridge tender, or someone who manages the three movable drawbridges in San Francisco: two near the Giants’ ballpark, and one at the end of Cesar Chavez.
He also worked first as a volunteer, and then as a paid music educator at the Mission Cultural Center, and then at the Community Music Center.
Music is “maybe the least destructive thing we can do as human beings, you know, that makes people feel good. And I think allowing or encouraging kids to play is really, really good for them,” said Govea.
Early on, La Familia Peña-Govea: Govea, his wife Susan, and two daughters, Cecilia and Rene, played around the Bay Area.
During the pandemic, he has been playing music with his daughter, Rene, as she writes songs for “SF Loves Learning,” an educational YouTube channel run by the San Francisco Unified School District that formed during the pandemic.
And this weekend, he will perform alongside his daughter Cecilia, or La Doña, a musician who fuses hip hop, reggaeton, and Latin rhythms, at Stern Grove.
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My friend is a big fan of La Dona and remembers when his daughter performed as a young girl years ago. She even has CD’s from back then, I think. We saw them play recently at Carnival – it was great! Plus it was nice to see live music after so long.