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Course: Fall 2018

Taught by Dr. Teresa Satterfield, Associate Professor of Spanish

Dr. Satterfield spoke to Alana Rodriguez, LACS program specialist, about her innovative class, Spanish 385: The Language of Reggaetón, which was taught for the first time in Fall 2018.

Conceptualizing the class:

The idea for the class grew out of research that I have been carrying out for  the past ten years on a new variety of Spanish that I'd personally been hearing on the East Coast (US) from young Caribbean Spanish speakers.  The Spanish contains specific linguistic characteristics that I'd only heard previously in speakers using African American English.  But now I am hearing young Spanish-speakers using iconic "Black English" markers in their Spanish!!!  I  initially called this variety "Reggaetón Language/Lengua Reggaetóna" just because it was very common in Reggaetón artists' speech during radio/YouTube interviews that I was hearing (Think Ivy Queen, Tego Calderón, Pitbull). I first discussed this phenomenon in the AfroHispanic language class that I taught in 2009, so I knew that it was something potentially interesting to students.

Personal background with this genre and community: 

I first heard Reggaetón music in 2004 when my younger brother "DJ Sonny" sent me a mixtape. Of course, the 'dembow' rhythm hooked me immediately, but then I began listening to the Spanish lyrics, and I was, like, wait a minute!!! The guy just said "Back that thang up, mami" TOTALLY IN SPANISH!!!!  At that point, my linguistic training kicked in, but I truly believe that only someone like me with a foot in both worlds "Afro" and "Latinx" would be able to grasp the fact that we are witnessing two marginalized worlds (featuring Caribbean Spanish - the most stigmatized Spanish dialect + African American English - the most stigmatized English dialect) melding together and unapologetically surfacing in the 'new' genre of music.

Professor Teresa Satterfield in class.

AR: What were your biggest concerns or worries before teaching the class? 

TS: My biggest concern was first of all that I'm not a musicologist or scholar of music; I'm a linguist. Even then, I wasn't sure that I would able to articulate to students the dynamic connection between language and identity without losing the relevance of the music/art. 

AR: So, this is the first time you’ve taught anything like this! How did you prepare and create the syllabus? 
TS: First, I tried Google!  But I couldn't find any other professor that had presented an academic course on Reggaetón. I got enormous input from my dear colleague, Professor Fernando Arenas, who has taught a successful class on "Popular music in the Portuguese-speaking World." From there, I began to tie aspects of my research questions into points that I wanted to cover in the class: What are the origins of Reggaetón? Who are notable artists? What are characteristic speech sounds, lexical items and syntactic structures in the genre? How does race impact the genre? What are the impacts of bilingualism on Reggaetón?  Initially, we didn't even have a firm syllabus, just a skeleton and every week and I would 'fill in' the content for the following two weeks, adding scholarly articles and assignments as we went along, according to the pace of the students.

Noah Watson performing a Reggaetón song he wrote as his final project.

AR: What was the dynamic like in the class? What were your favorite moments? 
TS: I'd like to think that the vibe was that of a supportive, engaging learning community. There were students who were Reggaetón fanatics and others who had never listened to Reggaetón, not even [popular international hit by Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi, later covered by Justin Beiber] "Despacito." We typically listened to a "theme" song to start the class and then analyzed the day's one target linguistic/cultural component (phonetics/morphology/syntax/expressions of race or transnationalism). Student participation was crucial and everyone in the class was fantastic about providing comments and working productively in small groups. My favorite moments were the final projects – seeing the growth of knowledge of the students by the end of the term; also the many conversations OUTSIDE of class with students who went to Reggaetón concerts and shared photos or would pass me an interesting article. Happily, this has not stopped even though the class has ended: I'm thrilled that students are still sharing their 'Reggaetón' finds with me. Also it was so satisfying to connect with students in the class who were Latinx, bicultural and/or students of color, many of whom found a space to 'celebrate' their own identities through our class. 

AR: How did the students enjoy the material? 
TS: From my perspective, I think the students liked having the variety of scholarly articles, music videos, also the class visit by our guest DJ Miguel Ochoa. There were no exams in the course, but there were a few "knowledge checks" of quizzes in Canvas and then the cumulative Final Project where students had the option to carry out an in-depth linguistic analysis and case study of a Reggaetón artist OR to create their own original Reggaetón song, incorporating the linguistic and sociolinguistic criteria that we'd learned about in class.  

Ella Horwedel playing a song she wrote, sang, and recorded for her final project.

AR: There are many misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding this genre. What surprised students the most about the class content? 

TS: I carried out a brief exit survey on the last day of class where I asked the students to write down what they learned in the class (something that they really didn't know about the genre prior to taking the course). Many students were surprised that Reggaetón actually started in Panamá, and how it's evolved from social commentary on the plight of poor (many times) Afrocaribeños to the more sexualized, "party" sound that most people view it as today. Many students were surprised at the linguistic and cultural richness of the genre. We find innovation and invention of new words that didn't exist in Spanish before, and also the fusion of many types of music and the emergence of new forms like Spanish "Trap" via Reggaetón. Several students wrote that they "cannot listen to Reggaetón now without drawing on all we learned in class," and, "This class changed the way I listen to music."   

AR: Will you teach this again? If so, what would you change, add, remove? 
TS: I would love to teach the class again! And soon, because Reggaetón continues to evolve. We made a huge discovery in class that even the vocabulary that Reggaetón artists were using in 2010 is definitely NOT what Bad Bunny, Ozuna, Carol G, JBalvin, etc. are using now! I would try to add a component on connecting with (a) Reggaetón artist(s) in Latin America. 

UPDATE! This class will be taught again in Fall 2019!

AR: What would you say to a student who claims they don't like Reggaetón music? Why should they take your class? 
TS: First, I would want to find out from them what it is they don't like about Reggaetón music. You don't have to be a fan to take the class, you just have to want to learn, and you probably won't have another opportunity to study Reggaetón in an academic setting. And I totally get what turns people off: there's a misogynistic theme in Reggaetón that I abhor, also many stereotypes about what constitutes 'Latinidad,'  and in the worst cases, 'dembow' can be relentlessly repetitive. But students should take my class to see how we 'break through" those aspects and reveal many other important facets of the genre.  And as one student wrote on their exit survey, "This class is so lit!" 

Some funding support for course materials for this class provided by a National Resource Center grant administered by LACS. This grant comes from the US Department of Education.