For more than twenty years now, the Saint Lucian reggae band based in Ohio, The Ark Band, has been spreading the joys of roots rock reggae all over the United States. “We have played in every State, except North and South Dakota,” Terry Bobb told the STAR this week during an interview. Terry Bobb, who was on vacation here over the Christmas and New Year holidays, is one half of the founding members of the band. The other is his brother Eustace Bobb. Together they are referred to as the Saint Lucian rhythm twins (after the Jamaican rhythm twins Sly & Robbie), due to their distinct drum and bass sound.
The Bobb brothers came out of Marchand in Castries and went to Ohio in 1986. There they started The Ark Band in 1987. Since then they have continually toured across the United States, Canada and Jamaica sharing not just roots reggae with fans, but a bit of Zouk, Calypso and Soca music as well. And every where they go, in all of their promotional material they are referred to as ‘The Ark Band from Saint Lucia’. “We really try to bring out that authentic island vibe when we go out to play and I think that’s what people like about us. However our mainstay is foundation reggae music,” Terry said.
Today The Ark Band is a household name in Ohio and throughout the Midwest as the members continue to win fans with their authentic “live” music. They have also recorded four albums – the latest, “Fire dub,” was released late 2014.
And in an era when bands have downsized and longevity is no longer a standard, we asked Terry what exactly has kept the band together. “My mother always used to say that two sticks are harder to break than one. For me that stands out because the foundation of reggae is the drum and the bass and that’s Eustace and myself and before playing together we are family first. And so we have been able to keep this band going no matter what,” he explained. “The second thing is consistency. We play roots reggae and we have never budged from that and people love it. Over the years we have studied the market, observed our audience and now we know exactly who to market our music to,” he added.
Presently hailed as the number one reggae band in the whole Midwest USA by several publications, The Ark Band is heavily booked each year between May and September, playing a number of large events and festivals. However, they are on the road most of the year, performing at clubs, weddings and other events as well. The group, which was once endorsed by Miller Beer, recently signed on to a new sponsorship deal with another brewing company.
They have also shared the stage with a number of reggae greats including Burning Spear, Tony Rebel, Freddie McGregor, Culture, The Abyssians, Beres Hammond, Inner Circle, Israel Vibrations and many others. In fact, they recall their single largest event several years ago, playing before 70,000 fans at the Vermont Reggae Festival. Also on stage were Lucky Dube and Sister Carol. However, at the end of the day one newspaper reviewer wrote: “Surprisingly the Ohio-based band, The Ark Band, put on the best set of the day.” They were also labelled as having “stunning vocals, penetrating lyrics, backed by the tightest instrumentals imaginable.”
Following another live performance Tom Weber, co-author of Reggae Island wrote: “The Ark Band is one of the best Reggae bands I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of Reggae bands!”
Yet for all the accolades and successes, The Ark Band has one downside – it is yet to play at home in Saint Lucia.
“You know how they say that you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy, well there is nothing we would love to do more than to play here in Saint Lucia in front of our own people, friends and visitors,” Terry Bobb laments. “We have been trying for ten years to get onto the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival, we have held meetings, done presentations, submitted bios, CDs, references, everything. During those meetings the feedback is always positive, but as soon as we go back to Ohio, nothing!” he went on to explain.
The band has also proposed to the Saint Lucia Tourist Board that it could be used to market Saint Lucia in the Midwest. “I mean, we are on the road all the time and we even offered to have our van wrapped with the slogan ‘Saint Lucia, Simply Beautiful’ but it seems like no one is taking us on, even though we were told that the Midwest was a market that Saint Lucia was looking to tap into,” Terry continued.
Worn down by his efforts, the bandleader says friends who insist that he should not give up have encouraged him. He is hoping that 2015 will be a turning point as the band prepares to promote its new album and also has a European tour in its sights. The idea of collaboration with John Legend, who is also from Ohio, is not a far shot either even as dreams of docking onto a stage in Saint Lucia remain very much alive.