Today’s post is in part a request for help - because although I’ve spent a good amount of time researching the history of Duo Espera and their album Jen Nia Mondo, I’ve not been able to find out all the details. I’d almost go as far as to say that if you wanted to produce something to frustrate future researchers, you could scarcely do better than to replicate the liner notes on this album, which provide just enough information to hint that there is more to be found, but not quite enough to actually make it possible to find anything useful.
The record was produced in 1967 by Relax, an imprint of the Dutch label Iramac. Only the second Esperanto LP ever released, and the first involving professional musicians, the record consists of translations of eight well-known songs, all originally in English, with a general theme of pacifism and protest songs, of which Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan composed three each. All of the songs on the record would now be considered old standards, but a good number of them were contemporary or recent hits at the time of the album’s release.
The songs are all in a “light music” style, with a variety of musical accompaniments: some with an orchestra, others with acoustic guitar, and others still with Latin American instruments. The arrangements were by the prolific Dutch arranger Melle Weersma, and the translations by Wouter Pilger. The lead singers are credited as “Hanny (20) and her brother Adri (23)” - neither were Esperanto speakers, but they were established professional singers who had previously released three records in Dutch, that had been regularly played on Dutch and Belgian radio.
From this information, you’d think it would be relatively straightforward to find out more about Hanny and Adri, such as their surname, or the other albums that they had released, or where their careers went afterwards - but I haven’t been able to find anything whatsoever. Searching on Google for “Hanny and Adri” or “Hanny kaj Adri” only brings up pages about this album, most of which either only repeats the liner notes with no additional information, or gives the conflicting information that they were Belgian rather than Dutch and that the album was recorded in 1969. As this date is certainly false (the label gives a copyright date of 1967, and there are reviews of the record from ’67 and ’68), it is also good reason to doubt the accompanying statement of their nationality. Furthermore, the Esperanto Wikipedia states that they were from the village of America in Limburg - although the only source cited doesn’t actually support this, as it simply reproduces the liner notes. In any case, it seems much more likely that they were Dutch than that they were Belgian.
A similar search in Dutch (“Hanny en Adri”) gives no useful results - only some family notices about a couple with the same names, who cannot be the people we are looking for as the liner notes clearly specify that they are siblings. Because of the references to Belgium, I also searched in French (“Hanny et Adri”), and got no useful results.
A review in The British Esperantist of May 1968 described the record as being very professionally put together, to the best standards expected of commercial record labels, but noted that while the music was nicely varied, hearing the same two voices for the entire album was perhaps a bit too much - a criticism that seems somewhat surprising in retrospect, but serves as a reminder that 1967 was very early in the Album Era and the concept of an entire LP by a single artist was only starting to become established as the expected standard. The review also argues that Esperanto music by non-Esperanto-speaking singers is something that “we should be ready to accept if we want a rapid spread of sung Esperanto”, and noted that LPs had a commercial prestige that singles and EPs (of which there were already several in Esperanto) lacked.
According to this review, the record was available at a price of 45 shillings, plus 2 shillings postage, equivalent to a little over £30 in today’s money (about €35) and a considerable markup over the mass-market records of the era. Apparently many people were willing to pay that much for it, as it goes on to say that the first pressing had already sold out - as it was still being advertised for sale, it seems a reasonable assumption that Jen Nia Mondo was repressed at least once - something which very few Esperanto records achieve.
Jen Nia Mondo is also the title of a beginner’s Esperanto course published by the British Esperanto Association and Group Five (Esperanto on Radio and Television) in 1974. The course consisted of two books and a series of audio recordings; the course refers to itself as being a radio broadcast, but I haven’t been able to find any information about if and when it was actually broadcast, or whether it was only available on cassettes (and later CDs). The audio portion of the course used the chorus of Jen Via Mondo from this album as its theme tune. The course is long out of print, but a digital copy can be downloaded free of charge from the Esperanto-Asocio de Britio.
I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has any further information about Duo Espera and their career. Please feel free to leave a comment below or email me. I hope to be able to publish an updated version of this article with additional details in due course, and I will of course give full credit to any contributions!
- Duo Espera - Esperanto Wikipedia
- America (Limburgo) - Esperanto Wikipedia
- The British Esperantist, May 1968, pp 347-8
- JEN News Digest, July 1967, p 3
- Jen Nia Mondo books and audio course - Esperanto-Asocio de Britio
Comments are welcome in any language, especially Esperanto.
Komentoj estas bonvenoj en ĉiuj lingvoj, aparte en Esperanto.