The mural of La Doña adorning the wall of Casa Guadalupe Supermarket #2 portrays her from the shoulders up, her heavy-lidded eyes surveying 26th Street from between the “I” and the “L” of the block capitalized word RESILIENT.
Conspicuously decked out in a zip-up San Francisco Giants jacket, she was immortalized by veteran Bay Area muralists DJ Agana, Robz and Vogue as part of the Resilient public art program funded by the baseball team. The honor is more than fitting, as La Doña has, in a relatively short period of time, become a Mission District icon with her bold Chicana aesthetic and a sound that seamlessly encompasses Mexican roots music, hip hop, reggaetón and other Latin American grooves.
But, much like the Giants can’t make it to the playoffs without a deep bench, the far-reaching success of La Doña (aka Cecilia Peña-Govea, or Ceci to her longtime friends) flows not only from her own fecund creativity. Long before Peña-Govea adopted her imposing moniker, which translates loosely as “boss lady,” she had cultivated an extended team of collaborators whose work plays an essential role in her music, videos, album art, merchandise and personal style.
Part of that team will be performing with her Saturday when Blank Cassette presentsLa Doña at Great American Music Hall with some of her longtime collaborators, including bassist Esai Salas, saxophonist Naomi Garcia Pasmanick, keyboardist Tano Brock, and her father, multi-instrumentalist Miguel Govea.
“Everybody who works on this project is somebody I trust and love, and who I’ve created a lot of different music within many different bands,” said La Doña, who plays trumpet, accordion, and numerous other instruments. “My father continues to tour with me, and he’s a great part of the sound of the group on accordion, guitar or trumpet. Tano Brock is somebody I’ve worked with since I was very little, and so is Naomi Pasmanick.”
Charting the creative synergy of the La Doña team quickly gets tangled, but the results are readily apparent on her YouTube channel. Celebrating various facets of Chicano culture, her videos showcase the work of a vibrant community of Mission-centric artists, both behind and in front of the camera. One of her first songs to gain national attention was “Cuando Se Van,” a lithe but barbed denunciation of gentrification that was directed and co-produced by saxophonist Naomi Garcia Pasmanick, who credits Peña-Govea with paving the way to her career as a filmmaker and editor.
After writing a short story about love and fate and the mysteries of attraction, Pasmanick decided to create a short film based on the piece, “and Ceci was very involved with that,” she said. “Right at the same time, she wrote her first song as La Doña, ‘Nada Me Pertenece,’ and it really resonated with the story’s sense of loss and mystery and spirituality.”
She used Nada Me Pertenece” in a dream sequence in her short film “Encuentros,” and the collaboration premiered at Brava Theater in late December, 2018, on a program that included performances by dancer Jessica Recinos, SF Bae Ensemble, and La Familia Peña-Govea, the group that La Doña grew up performing in with her father, older sister, and mother. The experience led Pasmanick to get certified as a producer and editor via classes at Bay Area Video Coalition. She’s had a hand in just about every La Doña video since then.
“As soon as I say let’s do a video, Naomi’s got an idea,” La Doña said. “I give her my feedback and she’s very open and flexible. It flows pretty effortlessly. But she’s always been a visionary. I have a memory of my third-grade birthday party when it was getting late and we were getting in getting in trouble for talking really loud and we couldn’t stop laughing. After my mom came down and gave us a stern warning Naomi leading us in this guided visualization that was so imaginative, calming us down.”
On “Dembow y Sexo,” a song effectively deployed in an episode of the HBO series “Insecure,” La Doña sets her entire video at a lowrider meetup where Lauren D’Amato, the co-proprietor of Avila Rose Signs, carefully hand paints a floral design on the trunk of a Chevy. Mission-raised graphic artist Alyssa Aviles, the founder of the nonprofit organization Suavecita Press, designs most of La Doña’s merchandise, including t-shirts, coffee mugs and posters. And Mission native Natalie Alemán, a photographer devoted to documenting the lives of people in the neighborhood, has captured La Doña in action while performing and shooting videos, like her collaboration with Los Texmaniacs, the Grammy Award-winning Tex-Mex band from San Antonio, on the original corridos “Mal de Amor.”
As La Doña’s star rises, she’s making sure that her homegirls share the spotlight. “She centers around that,” Alemán said. “She brings everyone along with her. That speaks volumes. A lot of artists become more distant as they continue to grow, and sometimes forget about their roots and culture. You can see through all of her art and music, involvement and collaboration she brings her community.”
The belief that if you take care of the community the community will take care of you was instilled in La Doña from birth. By the time she started grade school she was performing in La Familia Peña-Govea, the Bernal Heights-based family band that was a neighborhood institution for two decades. Ready to get any kind of celebration started with a repertoire encompassing mariachi and merengue, rancheras and boleros, sones and cumbia, the band shaped her expansive musical palette, her multi-instrumental prowess, and her understanding of the work required to maintain a career in music.
La Doña isn’t so much an alter ego for Peña-Govea as an embrace of the adult responsibilities she’s been fulfilling since her youth, when people often mistook the tween for a 20-year-old. “In a lot of ways, I’ve had to relate to people on a very adult level, and that shaped how I relate to my own music. There’s kind of a wall that a lot of kids feel interacting with adults, but for me, it was never like that. I grew up partying with my music teachers, school teachers, tías, directors of all the arts programs and institutions in Bernal Heights. My sixth-grade teacher was at my house dancing with my tía.”
La Doña is still fueling the party, while bringing the culture of the Mission to a much wider stage.