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Student. Ella Horwedel

BA in Spanish & English; Minor in Community Action & Social Change, & Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Ella (center) in Cuba with Grupo Obsesión, a famous Cuban hip-hop husband and wife duo
Ella Horwedel playing a song she wrote, sang, and recorded for her final project.

Ella on speaking Spanish and discovering Reggaetón: I have spoken Spanish for 10 years, with the majority of my learning just from the Ann Arbor Public Schools system. I have always really loved Spanish and I wanted to speak it in a way that wasn't incorrect or overly "American" so I tried to find ways to listen to native speakers, to emulate and practice a legitimate accent. One of the biggest ways to learn this accent prior to entering college (all of my college professors are native speakers, but my high school and middle school teachers were not) was to listen to Spanish music, try to identify words, accents, colloquial phrases, and grammatical structures. Through this, I was exposed to a little bit of Reggaetón music, which I know I liked, but could not classify it/identify it until a little later. A little later in high school, Reggaetón was becoming a little more commercial and popular, J Balvin was on the rise, and one of my Guatemalan friends showed me a lot of J Balvin's music and many other artists I did not know about. With college, I learned about more music, definitely honed in on my accent, and went to Cuba and Perú, where I learned a lot about music (specifically in Cuba as the program was dedicated to music) and heard a lot of new Reggaetón songs. Cuba was awesome, too, because we learned a lot about the African and Yoruban origins/influences present in a lot of Cuban music, not just Reggaetón. I knew I loved Reggaetón and loved Spanish, and I figured I would learn about this stuff in Cuba, so this class was a perfect way to compliment/book-end the learning and experience I had in Cuba.

The appeal of Spanish 385: I liked that it offered an intellectual/cultural/linguistic look at a genre of music that is often dismissed or looked down upon. I think it was really appealing to look at the genre more in depth particularly because I only knew the newer stuff and I wanted to see how it connected (or is no longer connected) to its roots. 

I was expecting to analyze a lot about race and language in Reggaetón and the intersectionality of the two. I think in the beginning of the class we really focused a lot on the three (race, language, and Reggaetón) and how they worked together throughout the years. We talked a lot about the whitewashing of the genre in more recent (and commercial) years as well as the different dialects of English/Spanish present in the music. Toward the end of the class, we talked more about language specifically and bilingualism, particularly the different connotations of being bilingual, speaking Spanglish, and the ability to code switch. This was all super fascinating and seemed more like a linguistics course instead of a social sciences course. The class definitely met my expectations and exceeded them, especially with the heavy linguistic emphasis that we had toward the end of the course! As for surprising aspects of the class, we got to meet with a DJ from Panamá who was really cool and he performed for us and explained a lot of cool elements of Reggaetón (moreso the social and racial elements of Reggaetón, not so much the linguistics side).

On taking this class taught exclusively in Spanish: I think a challenging component of the class was understanding the linguistic terms in Spanish. A lot of them were advanced (and I don't know them in English) so it was difficult to learn about concepts using unfamiliar/advanced terminology. Besides that, everything we learned was fascinating! At times certain concepts were challenging, especially some of the linguistic readings, but Teresa did a wonderful job explaining concepts and helping us understand them.

Reggaetón Case Study: My favorite assignment was the case study of a Reggaetón artist. We got to do very fun research analyzing the language used in artist's music and in their ways of speech. Many of the artists were also less famous/from the 1990s or early 2000s and so it was cool to see the ways in which contemporary artists have been influenced from earlier artists, but also how they have divulged from early stylings of Reggaetón. 

A class for all music tastes: What would I say to a student who claims they don't like Reggaetón music? Why should that student still take this class? I would probably tell them they have bad taste in music... just kidding. I think Reggaetón is amazing not only because it's fantastic dancing music, but also because it is incredibly complex linguistically, socially, and racially. It is cool to analyze different artists, too, because while many still talk about drugs, sex, etc., more and more are respecting women, more and more are making music for the sake of unifying people instead of dividing people, and many women are becoming more involved in the previously male-dominated genre. It is fascinating to study for a variety of reasons, even if you don't prefer the genre, because it reveals a lot about gender dynamics, power structures, and the various connotations associated with power and bilingualism.