La Doña’s Recipe: San Francisco Hyphy, Radical Femininity, and Self-Love

After a strong performance at Tropicália, GUM quickly spoke to the artist about her upcoming EP, who she is, and what is on the horizon for La Doña.

Cecilia Cassandra Peña-Govea, better known as San Francisco’s La Doña, kicked off year three of Goldenvoice’s Tropicália festival with a hyphy-immersed set at the Mango Loco stage. The artist navigated between languages, hip-hop, and her own brand of “femmeton” as the crowd trickled onto the grounds. Speaking on culture changes within her hometown and encouraging all to shake “their ass,” La Doña’s original recipe thrived on its homemade pride.

La Doña (Justin Bieggar/GUM)

With that said, La Doña caught my attention for a variety of different reasons besides her self-fulfilled aurora that radiated onstage. Tracing musical roots back to her own family’s conjunto which she performed professionally as a trumpeter while her sister took hold of the accordion, La Doña’s sound acts as more than what was passed on, but of a blueprint of what truly makes Peña-Govea as La Doña.

Out of breath between sets and bruised by the heat of the sun, I ran from the Tropicália stage back to Mango Loco to meet up with La Doña. It was about an hour after her set and we met in the midst of Foos Gone Wild’s performance. Relocating to a nearby cantina, which was equally loud and filled with the flares of trap-infused hi hats, we quickly spoke about her upcoming EP, who she is, and what is on the horizon for the artist.

Your last video caught my attention. I love how you were spinning reggaeton in a feminist way and you were talking about your love life, your sexual encounters, and if you could tell me a little more about femmeton? Because it’s a little bit, I don’t want to say rare, it’s just inspiring and empowering.

Yeah of course. So, it’s men that I see that are doing really amazing in reggaeton, like definitely they’re so inspiring to me, but I think the way that I approach it is just a different approach to re-orientate the, you know, the female persona as the agent and kinda at the helm of the stories that are being told. There’s a lot of — it’s obviously a male-dominated genre and with that comes a lot of misogyny and a lot objectification, so I think in terms of representation it’s very important because I think the more that people hear women rapping, or women talking about, you know shit talking, like talking about their boos or whatever, I think more people will be comfortable to do that. And yeah I see it as a larger movement, not just my style but as a larger movement of reclaiming these genres that have typically been like more subjecting.

La Doña (Justin Bieggar/GUM)

You talk about representation and knowing your background (family band), you fuse the SF hyphy and the Mexican-American culture. Why do you think, well I don’t know if that’s the point, if you wanted to represent every half? Why is [this] representation important to you?

I think first off because it’s really my only choice for creating music. I can’t really — I wouldn’t feel fulfilled or happy if I was just making like demo, or just making reggaeton, or just making rancheras. I feel like [with] my project I’m able to dabble in and represent like a lot of genres that I’ve played throughout my life, so that’s why it feels really whole and empowering when people see it and they’re able to hear and connect with the different styles of music that I do.

But in terms of on a larger lens of representation, it’s important because I think there’s a lot of stories that get told about the Latinx or the Latino identity and it really officiates the facets of, you know, different cultures, different countries, different native groups/tribes and nations, and it. I want to communicate there is no “new Latina woman” you know? There’s not like the “reggaetonera” that like yeah, she embodies cholo aesthetics, or performs a Chicana identity but does reggaeton. To me, it just don’t really work that way. So, I want to be always upfront and honest about like all the parts of myself… I hope also that being brave and presenting all of those faces will allow for others as well and to dive into more of their musical roots and not just do things that they think are profitable or what people wanna hear. I think that it’s not sustainable to be an artist if you’re just making a product that people wanna hear. You gotta be doing it for yourself.

La Doña (Justin Bieggar/GUM)

Yeah, 100%. I also noticed that you have a very strong, excuse me, but a feminist persona. In terms of directing it [music videos] yourself, and having your own crew with you as well. Is this something that you planned out from the start when you were with the family band?

I was raised in a feminist household, so obviously my feminism looks different than my mother’s. She was raised, you know, in the ’60s and ’70s and was part of a second wave feminism. I personally am along the 5th wave, like being a women of color, who is also queer, and likes to embody more radical perspectives. But yeah, it’s always been a part of my family, like people trip also that I play with my dad, and are like “it’s not weird?” and like, no. Cause he’s like a huge disseminator of feminism.

He had two daughters and taught us both the most hard hitting instruments out there. My sister plays accordion [and] I play trumpet. So, it’s like it was a given that we would sing, because all musicians should be able to sing, but his focus was on teaching us instruments that are usually played by men. And people would ask him like “oh don’t you wish you had a son you could teach to?” and he’s like “why?” Like what the fuck kinda question is that? So, he’s very feminist [sic]. My mother obviously shaped the culture of the household in that way, so it’s just, yeah I don’t know, just something through my own learning also and my radicalization. I mean, it’s not part of my brand, I’m just a radical ass bitch.

La Doña (Justin Bieggar/GUM)

[Laughs] It’s just part of you

Yeah! And also I’m very clear with everybody that I work with that if we’re gonna be working together, then these are things I’m gonna be talking about, and this is my outlook. So, if you’re not comfortable with that, let’s see if it can work? And if you don’t like it then…get outta my face [laughs].

Are these type of, I would say your attitude and charisma, things we’re looking forward to on your debut EP? 

Yeah! I’m really excited for my EP. My main objective is just to get vinyl out there cause I come from like a pretty tight community of vinyl DJ’s and they’re always asking me for an LP, so I really wanna put out vinyl. And also the main track off of that EP is really sensitive and personal to me. It’s about gentrification and San Francisco, and climate change and climate catastrophes, and how people of color and working class people might grow or heal or undergo those violence,  the way that we are dealing with waves and waves of gentrification in the city [sic]. So, I’m focusing on that a lot right now, the production of it and we’re about to head into production for the music video, which I want to be one of my biggest projects to date. So, yeah and obviously a little bit of hyphy, a little bit of more Latin stuff, and then in March I’m going to be dropping my original rancheras.

La Doña (Justin Bieggar/GUM)

What made you want to drop the rancheras?

I love rancheras! Like anyone who knows me, like if I wanna hang out — I like throwing parties so I always invite people over like “come over!” Drink a little tequila, make some food, and let’s just play rancheras for 10 hours. So, that’s what I love and it’s really comforting for me cause that’s how I was raised in my house.

And I had the opportunity to go to San Antonio and record some songs with the Tex Mania, so who are like the current torch holders of the entire conjunto genre. And they invited me, and we wrote some songs, they backed me up on some of my originals and yeah, I’m really excited to put that out just because I want that connection to the border lines, la frontera, to be tangible. I do have family in Brownsville in Texas, so I want that to come across as well.

La Doña (Justin Bieggar/GUM)

Yeah, to just reach all aspects. Oh, I blanked out earlier but how was playing with Café Tacvba?

It was so fun! It was my first time at Hollywood Forever and it’s just an amazing space. I always feel hella wild around this time, like my grandma and my Tia start visiting me and I have like a lot of feelings around this time, so to be like present, and [with] the spirits and that honor, it was really special. I only would’ve done that [the show], other wise it’s impossible to take me outta the mission on Día de Los Muertos.

I’m like always in my city. It’s very, very special to me. That’s my favorite weekend out of the whole year, besides Carnaval, it’s like Día de Los Muertos. And so only fucking that [the show] can get me out of San Francisco, but I was really happy to be there and the audience was great. The line-up was awesome, they treated me really well, the venue was beautiful, the energy was beautiful. Yeah, I was hella happy.

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