El Son de la Misión, a new musical theater work, opens with a quote from an old Santana Latin rock number, and continues as a series of songs and stories highlighting 50 years of the Mission District's history, from Latino enclave to hipster hangout. There's doo-wop and soul, Latin jazz and salsa, rock en español, and a rap track about the death of Mission and Bernal Heights native Alex Nieto, killed by San Francisco police in 2014.
The Mission is at the center of the Bay Area's growing fight over gentrification. And now the Community Music Center (CMC), a Mission music school celebrating 95 years in the neighborhood, has commissioned a piece to tell some of that story. El Son de la Misión plays at the Brava Theater Saturday, Mar. 19 and Sunday, Mar. 20.
"It’s like a ballad, it’s a narrative," says El Son composer and musician John Calloway. He's been teaching music to Mission kids at CMC and in east side high schools for 30 years. And many of the 45 singers and musicians in the show have been his students.
"The piece is meant to be a neighborhood gathering," says Community Music Center’s program director Sylvia Sherman. "You see four generations transmitting culture. It's like a large family."
That family shares its pride in its musical heritage and its grievances over the way the community has changed in the past decade. "This is the perfect time to tell this story because of gentrification," Calloway says. "Maybe it's too strong to use genocide, but there are things happening right now in the Mission that are very alarming."