La Verda Stel'
La Verda Stel' is a mysterious recording posted to YouTube by an otherwise-empty account by the name of Julian Gastalou in 2018. The two videos purport to be both sides of a “weird record that [he] found at a garage sale”, with lyrics that could be in Esperanto or Ido. The name of the group makes it fairly obvious which of these two languages was intended - and indeed, the record is sung in Esperanto.
Any further details than this, however, are something of a mystery: it seems that nobody in the online Esperanto movement has heard of this group. The record does not appear in the comprehensive Laŭjara Katalogo de Muzikaj Diskoj en Esperanto, and none of the appeals for information that have been put out on a popular Esperanto blog or on social media or StackExchange have met with any success. If anyone from the Esperanto community knew anything about this record, we would almost certainly have heard from them by now.
My original post on this subject took the approach of assuming that the music was indeed from a real record and trying to solve the puzzle of when and where it was released by research and detective work. However, the results of this, and feedback from readers, has led to only one conclusion: the record does not actually exist.
In one sense that is not really true: obviously the recordings exist, and they’re on YouTube. But the story that they come from an old record found at a garage sale is not supported by the evidence: a more likely explanation is that they were created circa 2018 by Gastalou (which may or may not be a pseudonym) and his friends, or other persons unknown, and deliberately packaged in a way as to appear old.
A previous version of this post initially dismissed that theory, but over time the number of updates added to the end of it contradicting my original argument grew to such a point that the current state of the research was difficult to unpick from the article - and so I’ve rewritten it from scratch. The old version is available on the Wayback Machine if you are particularly interested in what I wrote previously.
Mia Amo Restis For
Vi Min Ne Credas [sic]
We will now examine each piece of evidence in turn, including notes and suggestions from readers, to explain these conclusions.
The fact that Gastalou’s videos only show the alleged record’s cover is immediately suspicious. As Reddit user PerodicticusPotto notes:
"The videos only show a static photo of the alleged cover - old-vinyl fans will typically show the label in the centre of the record too (it has a lot more info), and sometimes actual video of the record on the turntable."
Indeed, the usual approach when documenting vinyl records is that the record is described by what it says on the label, which is not necessarily the same as what it says on the cover. Uploaders of YouTube videos naturally want to prove that they do indeed have the original record, as well as showing all of the information about it - and as important details such as the catalogue number are frequently not included on the sleeve, seeing the label is of great importance.
By way of comparison, here is a video of a 1989 single by Ralph Glomp. Although Ralph is now known for his Esperanto music, this single is in English, with the same song in German on the B-side. The video shows both the cover and the label of the record itself, making it clear that the uploader does have a copy of the record and that the video’s soundtrack was dubbed from it.
To be completely fair, YouTube videos of records just featuring the cover art do also exist - indeed, I found at least three such videos of Moonlight Over Shanghai - so the lack of pictures of the La Verda Stel' record itself is not a conclusive proof that there is no such record, but it is a point that already starts to make us more suspicious.
We can also analyse the content of the cover. One correspondent assures me that there is “absolutely no doubt that it was made using a graphic editor like Photoshop or even just Microsoft Paint”.
The record label logo of Meric Records was a red herring for me at first. Such a label did indeed exist - it was a jazz label based in the Chicago area - and while labels sometimes did release records that didn’t fit their normal niche, it seems unlikely that a jazz label would release an Esperanto pop record.
Furthermore, I can’t find any suggestion that Meric ever used a logo like this - something that I dismissed at first, due to the fact that labels often changed their logos and Discogs only knew about a small number of Meric releases - until Robin pointed out that the French label America Records has a remarkably similar logo, which they used consistently for many years. If you wanted to create a fake but convincing record label logo for a mocked-up cover, it would of course be very easy to take this logo and edit it into the “Meric Records” one on the La Verda Stel' cover.
A reverse image search on the photograph returned no results. Unfortunately this doesn’t really tell us anything useful - it might imply that the picture was staged specifically for the fake cover, or that it was an old picture from an obscure source (perhaps a magazine that hasn’t been digitized), or simply that it’s been edited enough that Google couldn’t match it to its source image.
A final note on the cover from PerodicticusPotto:
"It would have been unusual for an obscure band's single to get a picture sleeve in the '60s or early '70s; and is it meant to be a double A-side? The Beatles had to fight their record company for one of those in 1965."
However, the use of a picture sleeve and the record being a double A-side is perhaps less surprising for an Esperanto record than it would be ordinarily. Throughout the analogue era, Esperanto records mostly consisted of singles and EPs dressed up in fancy sleeves, in many cases to look like a miniature album; LPs were rare, as due to the small market they were uneconomical. If this were a genuine Esperanto record, then the use of nicer packaging than an equivalent English record would not necessarily be surprising. That said, it is a very minor point in favour that certainly doesn’t outweigh the other issues already raised.
Some commenters suggested that the quality of the vocal performance suggests that the singer was a fluent Esperanto speaker. I don’t believe that this is a particularly safe conclusion, as many trained singers are able to give convincing performances in languages of which they don’t speak a single word - consider the album by Duo Espera. That said, it is clear that fluent Esperanto speakers were involved in the production: even if the singer didn’t speak it herself, she would’ve had to have been coached by someone who did in order to sound so convincing, and obviously someone must have written the lyrics.
The elementary spelling error in the title of one of the songs, “Vi Min Ne Credas” (for “Kredas”) particularly stands out in the context of a record that is otherwise practically linguistically flawless; I suspect this was most likely a deliberate change to make the word more recognisable to a non-Esperanto-speaking audience.
One possibility that has been suggested to me is that the singer might not be a real person but a computer-generated Vocaloid performance. However, assuming that this video of La Espero from 2022 represents the state of the art, it seems highly unlikely that the vocal performance on the two La Verda Stel' songs was anything other than a real person.
Whether the backing music is original or not is a more difficult question. Certainly one possibility is that the songs are original compositions, but a correspondent has pointed out that pre-made generic backing tracks are very common - as are instrumental versions of existing songs that can be resung with new lyrics. I’ve not yet done any research into whether either of these songs have come from such a source, but it would be interesting to look into.
On the technical quality of the audio, PerodicticusPotto notes that it sounds like “a modern (if slightly lo-fi) recording that has had static dubbed onto it at suspiciously regular intervals” - and also points out the complete lack of any keyboards in the music, in spite of there being a keyboard player on the cover photo.
It is interesting to note the similarity of the initial notes of Mia Amo Restis For to the opening of Junaj Idealistoj by Dolchamar. Some commenters jokingly suggested that Gastalou might be Patrik Austin, although Austin’s responded that “the record is too old to be linked” and that it “has exactly the style that Dolchamar wanted to parody and modernise circa 2000”. It’s likely that the similarity in openings it just a coincidence - although it’s also possible that it’s a knowing shout-out to a well-known Esperanto record that was over a decade old by the time Mia Amo Restis For was produced. This also gives a possible motive for presenting it as an old record: a joke of the opening notes seemingly being an anachronistic reference to Junaj Idealistoj.
Who is Julian Gastalou?
Sebastian Schulman points out that there is only one Julian Gastalou on Facebook, and that his profile and cover photos are very generic and were uploaded on the very same date as the YouTube videos. I’d already spotted the Facebook profile, and had sent a message on the off-chance of getting a response - but I hadn’t noticed the detail about the dates. Needless to say, I’ve not heard anything back - and I doubt I ever will, as the profile looks like it hasn’t been touched since February 2018.
Indeed, I can’t find any other references to a Julian Gastalou anywhere else on the internet, which to me strongly suggests that it is a pseudonym created only for publishing this music.
While the Facebook profile points towards Oregon, my best guess is that the person or persons behind these videos are French, or at least French speaking. America Records is a French label, Gastalou is a vaguely French-sounding surname, and there are a few small points in the lyrics that might possibly imply a French-speaking author: the word order of “vi min ne kredas”, the use of “fermaj” instead of “fermitaj” and “akordas” instead of “konsentas”, and the (presumably intentional) misspelling of “credas” for “kredas”. However these are just my own personal impressions, and they may well be completely wrong!
Unfortunately I think the only way that we will ever find out who created this music and why they chose to dress it up as an old record is if they decide to come clean and tell us all about it. No doubt their story is an interesting one in its own right, and we can only hope that one day they will decide to tell it!
Comments are welcome in any language, especially Esperanto.
Komentoj estas bonvenoj en ĉiuj lingvoj, aparte en Esperanto.