Translating Enamiĝo Reciprokataj from Esperanto

When I released my debut piano trio album, Enamiĝo Reciprokataj, on Origin Records on February 15th 2019, I received (luckily) press reviews confusing the title, which is in Esperanto, and letters from intrigued Esperantists. As my label anticipated, there has been a lot of discourse amongst writers and Esperantists about the title translation, the choice of my spelling (which technically bends rules of Esperanto). Esperanto is an artificial language written by a Polish philologist published in 1887, containing sixteen rules (which you can read about here), with an estimated population of a quarter of a million speakers, including artists, filmmakers and musicians. In fact, the Esperanto web series “Malsano Nomata Amo” (A Disease Called Love) debuted the same week as my album.

As a musician, composer, and amateur practitioner - promoter of Esperanto, I’ve been meaning to write and explain the title of my debut piano album. This post is for fellow jazz and Esperanto nerds to make clear my creative intention, and to share the many abilities, styles and translations the Esperanto language can give. The title was an artistically chosen usage with a lot of intention, creativity, and thought regarding the process of composing the music and the music itself.

A French Esperantist recently wrote to me, and I thought his letter was the perfect opportunity to share discourse between Esperantists since releasing the album on Origin Records, a subsequent review on France Musique emphasizing my vision in Esperanto, and my recent inclusion as a supporter of Esperanto France.




Feb 21, 2019, 11:16 AM


I am also a learner of Esperanto (and a jazz listener and amateur practitioner). I appreciate the symbol of using Esperanto for jazz music for what it has in common: a universal language which brings very different people to communicate with each other. I find it interesting that "Enamiĝo Reciprokataj" is translated as the Esperanto for "Reciprocal Love". Originally I suppose it is, but in the process of translating in gained more meaning. As a basic translation "Reciproka Amo" would have been a minimal approach and gives a static idea of mutual love. I find the chosen expression much richer and it means much more than "reciprocal love" it should be translated back in english as something like the process of falling in love that is returned to you. "Enamiĝo" is "falling in love" used as a noun (a bit like the french "coup de foudre"). And "reciprokataj" instead of "reciproka" puzzled me a little because it is not the simple adjective but indicates the result of an action, it is not simply mutual but it is actively "reciproqued" if the verb existed. So I guess it is something offered in return. 

It is exactly what I love about Esperanto. Great creativity allowed by a inventive modular system made for flexibility. All things that could also be said about jazz.

There is one detail that I don't understand. Why is “Reciprokataj” in plural form? It is grammatically a mistake since the "Enamiĝo" is singular.  Could it be that it is a one to many relationship ? The Love one fell into (the love of music) that is met by many reciprocal loves (the many ears listening)? I would be interested to have an explanation to this puzzle. From the author of the album or the translator of the title.

Anyway thanks for spreading Esperanto. So many people think it is a dead language. When it is just the most successful constructed language.

Enough said about the I am going to listen to the music now (Discovered through Open Jazz on France Culture)

Kindest regards, 

Feb 28, 2019, 2:47 AM

Kara Benno,
Dankon! Thank you so much for this letter, I was so moved and appreciative to receive your inquiry and understanding and interest of my music and album title. You understand and ponder perfectly well. It was my hope that the album title would reach fellow Esperantists and jazz aficionados and that I would connect with them to enjoy this wordplay and creative inspiration that Esperanto gives. Thank you for your question, I'd like to paste your words and respond here.

"There is one detail that I don't understand. Why is "Reciprokataj" in plural form? It is grammatically a mistake since the "Enamiĝo" is singular. Could it be that it is a one to many relationship? The Love one fell into (the love of music) that is met by many reciprocal loves (the many ears listening)?"

Your interpretation is very interesting to me also and adds another angle to it; to me it speaks to what it would mean in the condition of performing a solo improvised concert. Answer: Yes.  "Enamiĝo" is the singular form while “Reciprokataj” is plural, in terms of meaning, creativity, participants in music - audience and listener, improvising bandmate and bandmates. First let me explain each word.

Word Research and Translations

Enamiĝo: I love that Enamiĝo means "falling in love", and not just simply the word for "love" (which is “amo” in Esperanto). “Enamiĝo” hits a bit harder to the flutters of infatuation and obsession when one feels they are falling in love. The fact “Enamiĝo” or “falling in love” is singular while the (reciprokataj) "reciprocation" of it is plural - is all tongue in cheek. It could mean that all parties to which the phrase refers to, reciprocate, or "love" reciprocally, but only one of them is in the "infatuation/falling in love" stage, and the other is reciprocating, but isn’t falling in love. It is a joke that only deep Esperantists would catch. (If you understand this and are reading this now, I am grateful you found me and I hope you are laughing with us nerds.)

“Enamiĝo” as a word also feels like “enemigo” from Spanish for “frenemy” which caught me originally, and “epánchement” from French for “enamourment,” as well as “enigma” from English. All of these rang out to me when researching the title in Esperanto. These words spoke to me and to processing the process of composing the music before I was finished releasing the album. Both “enemigo” and “enigma” was personal. As a creator I was my own enemy in the process for self criticism and judgement that I seered onto my own attempts for each composition, arrangement, rehearsal, and painful sight reading I put so many musicians through in performing my compositions. But also, the enigma for handling this and then dealing it out for others, silently. For “enemigo” - I feel we are our own worst enemies when it comes to self-criticism about creating.

“Epanchement” as the French word for “enamour“ spoke and inspired me alongside Stravinsky’s Petrouchka character in the ballet, which inspired four out of five movements on the Reciprokataj Suite on the album. The story of Petrouchka was originally based on Punch and Judy puppet shows; in the ballet, Petrouchka the puppet is in love with a ballerina, who unfortunately does not return his love; but I wanted to title the album the opposite. Because while jazz musicians love Stravinsky, we love his structure and form, at the end of the day we want to fulfill ourselves and free ourselves from the hinges of reading and classical notation through improvising and speaking our souls. I didn’t want to title the album “unreciprocated love,” which would have been more accurate to the story of Petrouchka. I picked words that meant reciprocal love, as a dream wish musicians playing want to feel.

Reciprokataj: Reciprokataj or Reciprokata is plural for “reciprocal” or “reciprocated”. Reciproka means “mutually” or “reciprocal". The choice of using the word "reciprokataj" over "reciproka" or the alternate spelling "reciprokata" also felt in line with this theme. I was thrilled when I recently learned that "reciprokataj" is more of an older Romanian and Eastern European / Croatian / Slavic language spelling that is used in Esperanto, which confirmed my intuition to have more consonants in the spelling. Also, if I had chosen grammatically correct “Enamiĝoj Recipokataj” it felt a bit goofy and overly consonant. Enamiĝo Reciprokata felt too shallow and pretty. The combination of the words, syllables, and spellings of Enamiĝo and Reciprokataj alone felt like a gorgeous rich puzzle of consonants and enigma and circumflexes, which made me feel closer to the Czech language, and the time I spent in Prague, studying Czech and Czech composers, when I wrote some of the first compositions on the album.

Sidenote: in Esperanto, there are six extra characters with a circumflex: ĝ, ĵ, ĉ, ŝ, ĥ and û. You can type this special character by pressing “option + 6” before the letter you want to circumflex. The circumflex basically adds a harsh “h” sound after the consonant in most cases. Therefore, ĉ becomes “ch”, ŝ becomes “sh”. If you don’t have an Esperanto keyboard, you can spell this by inserting an “x” after the consonant, such as “Enamigxo”. Esperantists universally accept, read and write this alternative spelling. PS - In general I don’t recommend using a special character to title an album, in terms of the difficulty explaining, typing, tweeting it, doing a session with it in Pro Tools, and of course, mastering it with encodes featuring a special character, nor creating a hashtag, etc., But, sometimes creativity makes you annoying to everyone else. I’m fine with it. Extra special thanks to engineer wizard Kevin Reeves at Universal Music for dealing with the special characters in the mastering process!!! He is a rockstar.

Importantly, all of these detailed explanations of my nerdy love affair with Esperanto were hard to concisely entertain and explain, so the easiest English translation was "reciprocal love” though my favorite translation is "mutual breakdown" (which I really like because it resonates with me how in relationships we are constantly breaking down to for another what the other means, to refine, understand and love them). The translation of Enamiĝo Reciprokataj to "mutual breakdown" applies in terms of a live band, is so right on - as when musicians tell each other to "break it down", or there is a break, or breakdown in the music. The pianist Bill Evans once said that jazz musicians communicate at the highest level of intelligence and listening to one another; which has inspired me for decades to aspire to doing - that music is like love and relationships, and as a practitioner of both it is an endless refinement of challenges to be clear and communicate words as well as notes on the piano, as a bandleader, as a composer performer.

Grammar Research and Early Days in Prague

I spent early days in New York learning Esperanto first from bassist Thomas Morgan who turned me onto the language in spring 2005. I enrolled in a summer course taught by Thomas Eccardt at cafe Emma’s Dilemma on 22nd street and Park Avenue in Manhattan shortly after a few months practicing. In fall 2005 I went to Prague and met with Czech Esperantists every week at the Klubo Prago on Thursdays just off of Wenceslas Square. I used websites like long before Google Translate came along, and went on an excursions with a blind Czech Esperantist poet named Cestmir Vidman, as well as to Dvorak’s house in the country with a woman named Margit who refused to speak anything other than Esperanto for the weekend. In short, these exchanges were powerful and evoked a lot of the forecast and vision of the music and releasing it. At the time I was obsessed with Czech composers Bohuslav Martinu and Leos Janacek, and was meeting with jazz pianist Emil Vicklicky weekly to study music, piano and film scoring.


In terms of the music, the album title speaks to several things. I’ll list a few, first being 1) jazz improvisation. When creative musicians improvise together in a group, there is always a push/pull of who is most in love/feeling the notes at any given moment - one might be falling in love while others are reciprocating but not falling in love; i.e. a drummer and bassist might suddenly find a groove to a pianist's chords, while the pianist might not be in love with the chords but the others are; or vice versa. A band is always driving to be tight, together, in sync, in tune with each other, to reveal the highest power of the music. The goal of course, for me, for many, for small jazz combos such as the trios on this album, is to be in love reciprocally as musicians with what the other musicians are playing in the moment and to attain the highest level of communication on the bandstand, consistently. And 2) the audience - the many ears as you suggest - yes! The musicians have to get the audience to fall in love with their notes; the musicians might be reciprocating with each other but the audience might not be falling in love with it, as happens with the risk of improvised music performances. The phrase universally applies and inspires me when I think of so many improvising situations I've performed/played in and listened to from the audience. And lastly of course, the phrase "Enamiĝo Reciprokataj" can also apply to relationships, audiences, bandmates, other musicians in the pantheon of the creative forms in which they practice and the relationships with the people they are practicing it with.

It is funny that music and verbal sections occupy two different parts of the brain. While I love languages and music, I get mental when I play music, and often find my verbal capacity exhausted (especially right after an energetic show! Same thing happens as a piano instructor for students to verbal instruct them between attempting piano passages. Right now as I type in residence in Kuwait at the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Center Music School, I am teaching young Kuwaiti piano students while speaking English and Arabic. Using Arabic in lesson is way more fun and helps me get points across! Anyway, I think that this phrase in Esperanto is a beautiful way to nod to this notion of communication in language, love and music, but especially in jazz, where there is an art form of conversation, dialogue, and intelligence within every ensemble, composition, and every opportunity the music is played by the musicians. (The liner notes of the album also talk about this, which are printed only on the physical cd at this moment.)

Thank you so much for writing, I am so glad we are samideanoj (same-thinkers). I hope you enjoy the music, and I hope we cross paths. I look forward to perform in France someday.

La albumo estas por la reto ĉi tie

Amo Cxiam,