Dominican priest on calypso, evangelisation, hurricane recovery
By Kaelanne Jordan
A former two-time calypso king now priest said he is “sad” to hear that authentic calypso in Trinidad “is dying”.
Dominica-born priest Fr Brancker John believes that calypso is “absolutely important” as it is the voice of the voiceless, for those who do not have the opportunity to have a microphone.
“The good calypso takes what the people are saying and expresses the collective thought and at the same time educates and entertains….”
Fr Brancker, known back then in the calypso arena as ‘De Brakes’ was crowned Calypso Monarch in 1997 and 1999 and won Road March in 2000. He was well known for his hit songs ‘Remember me the Malaway’; ‘Keep the Candles Burning’; ‘Jam De Brakes on Dem’; ‘My Plan: Something to Believe in’ and ‘Workers’.
These days the former ace calypsonian’s involvement is mainly as a listener as his energies are channelled into his priestly vocation. Yet he still enjoys a good calypso and does occasional songwriting for calypsonians who request his service.
Fr Brancker told Catholic News in an interview last Saturday that he enjoys Karene Asche’s ‘Big Man Tin’ and Duane O’Connor’s ‘No Front Page’ offerings.
The parish priest at St Patrick’s RC, Grand Bay, could not help but inject some advice from his past life to calypsonians: “A good song for me has to make me want to sing. The melody has to be good, must be catchy. The melody has to draw me in. In terms of the lyrics, rhyme has to be a strong component of the song. It must articulate the sentiments of the people and a good calypso speaks truth to those in authority—policy makers, change makers…it must educate and entertain and it must be topical, highlighting the issues and the plight of the people…that’s a good calypso.”
Fr Brancker visited Trinidad January 26–30 as the main celebrant at a Thanksgiving Mass to Trinbago Catholics who assisted the Church in Dominica following Hurricane Maria. The group called ‘Prayer Group Morning Devotions Fr Brancker John Dominica’ raised TT$45,721 and EC$50.
Fr Brancker officiated at Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, San Fernando and Cathedral of Immaculate Conception last Sunday, and St John the Baptist, San Juan last Saturday. Commenting on this, he said, “The Mass is to say ‘thank you’ to people and to thank God for Maria. In all things we are to say thanks to God. Disaster gives us a chance for introspection, to ask God ‘What do you want of us now?’ You can stop and ask ‘What can you teach me?’ or ‘What are you trying to teach me from this?’ That’s what disasters are supposed to do.”
The 44-year-old priest told Catholic News that he had no idea that his first WhatsApp daily devotion which began March 2017, would bear fruit as “a massive form of evangelisation,” touching the lives of many people across the world.
“I didn’t have an aim, I just get involved in things. I did not know what was going to happen. To me that was a simple thing but to me it is not anymore. When I realised what was happening, I started to take it seriously. It’s a life changer…every continent is getting it. I am participating in something that the Lord has designed. So I’m in people’s heads every morning and they say to me ‘Father you are now the parish priest of the world’.”
When Hurricane Maria devastated the island, severing telecommunications, Fr Brancker’s devotions paused. He did however, manage to disseminate a few inspirational messages and Maria updates four days after the storm. His early morning devotions officially resumed last month.
Dominica still needs aid
While government and Church aid continues throughout the diocese, the assistance “is slowing down” as resources are limited. Dominica is not back to “normal” and the communities are still reeling from the devastation, Fr Brancker said.
“There is still no electricity, and phone service is unreliable. It’s better than how it was two or three weeks after the hurricane but it is still not 100 per cent reliable. A lot of people have lost their jobs. People migrated so we don’t have the economic activity that we use to have before. Some business closed down temporarily or they laid off some of their workers. So there is that suffering as well.”
He detailed, “We’re using generators. We’re surviving beyond the devastation and we’re still doing what we have to do. I still bathe from buckets. I carry water to flush the toilet and wash my hands. A lot of people still get wet when it rains [because] their homes are covered in tarpaulins. But we’re still surviving and we dress up to go to church,” he said.
Fr Brancker mentioned that Hurricane Maria severely damaged four of his parishes including St Patrick’s RC, the Holy Trinity Chapel and the Chapel of the Epiphany. Today, worshippers gather for Mass at the St Patrick’s presbytery garage.