WikiMizik? What’s that? If you’ve ever looked up the lyrics to a song in Haitian Creole, the website WikiMizik probably figured on the first page of your search results. Managed by three techies, the site is a lyrical factory of some of the most popular Haitian konpa songs, as well as songs from other musical genres in Haitian music, and by Caribbean artists.
This is the first of three interviews that I will be conducting with the founders of WikiMizik. We will first start by having a discussion with Guignard Vilmar, the industrial engineer and techie and graduate of Florida State University on the Wikimizik team.
Kreyolicious: First things, first. How did the idea for the platform come about?
Throughout our college days friends would always ask what certain words or phrases from songs meant. Then one night someone called me at 2 a.m. asking what a line from a zouk track meant. This call disturbed my sleep, and created a train of thought that would eventually turn into Wikimizik.com The next day, Darryl and I spoke and our conversation led to project wikimizik. As a net junkie, Darryl usually knows what’s already out there. This time, he couldn’t find a site that did what we wanted to do: translate and explain Creole lyrics. So, we researched some more and brought the project to life.
Kreyolicious: Anything about your background…whether educational or work experience that has helped you in running Wikimizik?
My undergraduate degree was in Management Information Systems and a large portion of my course work dealt with computer programming. My very first career job was working as a developer. I think that background helped me design and develop the Wikimizik platform.
Kreyolicious: When did you first realize the website was taking off?
I can think of a few. Someone from New Orleans reached out to us on Facebook asking us to add an explanation for the word “chovi” from one of Belo’s songs. She spoke New Orleans Creole and loved Haitian music. She explained how their Creole is very close to ours, but there were certain words that she couldn’t understand. That made us realize Wikimizik wasn’t just for Haitians and Haitian-Americans. Folks from around the world are eager to understand Haitian lyrics and Haitian Creole. We now have hits from places like Morocco, New Caledonia, Congo, Netherlands, etc.
Another time that comes to mind is when Jean-Winer Pascal created an account and added a song on wikimizik.com. I reached out to the user because of an issue with the lyrics he had added, only to realize he was the Jean-Winer Pascal, writer of several hit songs for Beethova Obas, Emeline Michel and Belo. When we reached out, he didn’t shy away from showing how amazed and appreciative he was for the work we were doing. His words of encouragement boosted us to work even harder.
A year ago, we reached out to Michel Degraff, linguistic professor in MIT and founding member of Akademi Kreyol Ayisyen [Haitian Creole Academy]. We wanted to get his take on the concept. Mr. Degraff was amazed by the large set of searchable Kreyòl lyrics available in the Wikimizik database. Throughout the lunch meeting, he never ceased to reiterate how this idea could contribute to serious academic research. Using our relational database, we’ve now provided Mr. Degraff with several data sets that contribute to his research on the Kreyòl language.
Kreyolicious: What are your favorite lyrics from a Haitian song?
So many great songs to choose from, but if I had to pick one I would say Detripay (wikimizik.com/lyrics?song=251) by BelO. It was co-written by BelO and Jean Winer Pascal. It’s a beautiful poetic description of a sad reality. The metaphors in the lyrics are powerful, and cannot be understood without profound thinking. Every time I listen to this track it solidifies the idea behind the Wikimizik concept. Here’s an excerpt: “Yon kout kleren nou an zig zag/Lavi yon pèp tounen yon blag / Vètij grenpe tèt Maryela / Poto san fil/Jwenn madigra” [A shot of alcohol sends us astray/People’s lives done turned to a big joke/Maryela got vertigo/A street pole with no electrical wires clashed with a Mardi Gras parade]
Kreyolicious: Where do you see Wikimizik five years from now?
In five years, we want the Wikimizik brand to be fully developed and deployed. Wikimizik is more than just a website. We have several key elements that will accompany the site. Among them is the mobile app. It will provide users with some of the same features from the site on mobile devices, but it will also complement Wikimizik with a unique, exciting features. We recently hosted the first Yon Ti Koze Sou Pawòl [A Conversation About Lyrics], a series of panel discussions with artists and thinkers about lyrics and texts. We have several other projects in the pipeline that we can’t share yet. We are so excited for what’s to come!
This concludes PART I of the interview with the Wikimizik team. Be sure to check out PART 2 and PART 3.
Meanwhile, be sure to CLICK HERE to check out the WIKIMIZIK website!