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NSOTT ‘expat’ Chairman Wants
To Have A Ball

By Terry Joseph
April 05, 2002

Trouble is brewing once again in the National Steel Orchestra (NSOTT), this time the conflict arising from a distance between opinions of operatives and Board chairman Dr Dawn Batson.

Dr Batson, who is substantively Head of the Music Faculty at Florida Memorial University, flies home as required to attend Board meetings and other consultations, a situation considered impractical by both pannists and band officials.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two such officials concurred: "We have due respect for Dr Batson, but this arrangement is problematic, particularly with the band being so young. Just imagine, in the land of the steelband, the national orchestra is making it look like we cannot identify a resident head, so we have to end up with a virtual expatriate as chairman."

NSOTT, which was commissioned on May 1 last year, was born of dissent and confrontation. At first announcement by then Public Administration Minister Wade Mark, a brouhaha broke out between the Culture Minister Daphne Phillips and Pan Trinbago over a proviso that no member of Pan Trinbago’s executive was to be on the band’s Board.

That took some two years to settle and the band finally became reality last May. In the interim, NSOTT, which features some of the finest pannists and arrangers available, has enjoyed rave reviews for a series of promotional concerts given nationwide. A Christmas concert at Woodford Square in Port of Spain earned the 25 member group unanimous public endorsement.

But behind the walls of its Nelson Street, Port of Spain headquarters the story has not always been that rosy. The engagement of globally revered arranger Len "Boogsie" Sharpe was among its earliest hints of conflict.

Reports indicate Sharpe’s employment was proposed at a monthly fee of $2,000 and when he queried the sum was allegedly told by one Board member to "Take it or leave it." Director of Culture Mungal Patasar was forced to intervene to settle the difficulty.

But with hindsight, that was a relatively minor conflict, the latest being a proposal from Dr Batson to stage a Chairman’s Ball, which ousts another plan by band management to hold a second concert series as a way of raising funds to meet its current account demands.

"While money is becoming available to Pan Trinbago and by extension the steelband movement, NSOTT remains in crisis," sources said. When the band began operations last year, managers were forced to wait some four months before receiving their first paycheques.

"Whether its at discounted rates or not, the cost of flying the chairman home every time we need to have face-to-face consultation is something that has to be considered," band sources said.

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