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 — each week to chronicle her experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)
What’s changed for you over the past week?
Everything. My priority has shifted from staying safe and COVID-19 to now engaging in direct action and mobilizing with my communities. It’s been a complete shift from individual safety to large scale action, solidarity and awareness raising.
Tell me more about the protests you’ve been part of? If you can share a little bit of what the experience has been like in San Francisco?
I’ve participated in a couple of the more general protests one last Wednesday that was organized by youth leaders and it was like 30,000 who showed up. Me and my housemate were happy to respond so we were out there and playing percussions and we made a couple of signs one that read “protect black lives” and another one “defund SFPD” so we were out there for hella hours. But the night before that protest, a kid [Sean Monterrosa] who grew up in my neighborhood was shot and killed by the police in Vallejo and so Friday there was a memorial and gathering for him on 24th and Mission and I have since been every day attending smaller memorials for him.
Can you talk more about why it’s so important to make the black and brown alliance stronger and how the Latinx community be part of pushing the conversation forward?
All postcolonial subjects inherently are extremely racists especially under white colonialism we have been taught forever that the lighter we are the safer we are and so there’s a need for the deconstructing of racism and unlearning that we need to do amongst Latinos, and that’s not to differentiate from the way black Latinos have been treated in Latin American countries as well as the indigenous communities. I think that the solidarity is imperative because we face a lot of the same problems and we will heal from the same types of dramatic restructuring. In the last few months I’ve seen in San Francisco the resurgence of black and asian beef and black and brown beef, but, in the past, we have always demonstrated black and brown solidarity especially around issues of police brutality. We were out there for Mario Woods and Jessica Williams two black people who were killed by SFPD within the last five years. Just like we were when brown people have been murdered by the police. San Francisco especially has quickly become a whitened and gentrified space that we really need to remain strong and find solidarity with each other and in our demands and I think that in general, the black and brown communities align very closely on a lot of these issues.
What’s your take away from the overall reaction from the Latin music industry and its musicians?
It’s something that I’ve always been uncomfortable with. It’s so blatant right now but the overall exploitation of black culture and black music within the Latin music industry, within the entire music industry, is really horrendous and despicable. I have always taken time in my interviews to talk about and educate and demonstrate my knowledge of the my use of rhythms as well as my appreciation but a lot of people don’t because they become excited to transition into mainstream on the backs of black culture and that’s something that has been lauded and applauded in the music industry for as long as it’s been happening. It’s horrible. You can post a selfie and all but you are not giving back, you are not black and you’re not posting about issues that are facing those communities and you’re making hella money off of those people and their culture and practices. The least you can do is use your platform, like the very least, to bring light to these certain issues. It’s disappointing.
I know you’ve personally been donating to a couple of organizations, can you tell me more about that?
I personally have donated to the People’s Breakfast Oakland organization. I’ve also donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund. And, I did a fundraising project with Pandora where they’ll match my donation of up to $2,000 so I raised money for the Black Lives Matter organization and the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing protestors who have been arrested or are facing charges.
Anything else you want to add?
I’ve realized that my biggest tools are my voice and my physical presence in demonstrations. I’ve been questioning how I want to make music right now and if I want to put anything out. It feels really contrite to be amplifying any non-black voices but I do want to help heal people who listen to my music but it’s a struggle. I wrote a song for Sean Monterrosa’s family and people who have been mobilizing for his murder. I want to release the song, even if it’s just on SoundCloud.
And, I think that going forward I have to be very intentional about collaborating with people who are aware and authentic in their practices. For example, I started working on a son jarocho song, which is an Afro-Mexican art form, and I’m working with musician Victor Murillo who is deeply entrenched in that community. And if I work on hip-hop music in the future I will be featuring black producers and black artists on those songs. And just continue to use my reach to promote black voices.