David Ballman, vocals, tambura, percussion
I started writing songs when I was in high school in Minneapolis. It was really more like journaling than songwriting but it helped rescue me from my teenage depression. I wanted to be a lyricist. I soon realized that I would have to sing my own songs since no one was banging down my door to play my songs, so I started singing.
In 1989 I began performing with guitarist Bob Andresen. Later, we became Blue Garden, my first band. We released a CD “Spirit is a Luxury,” and played in coffee shops while I worked on being a better singer and songwriter. I also took voice lessons from Karen Lyu of the West Bank School of Music. I sang any chance I could. In retrospect, I was searching for my voice.
In 1996 I joined a small group led by the poet Robert Bly. The group was filled with men that I had met during the Minnesota Men’s Conferences. David Schmit was in the group. We gathered to sing sacred songs from the Sufi tradition as well as other sacred traditions. This was my introduction to the deep beauty of Sufi music and the sacred chants of India. As we sat in a small candle lit room, incense floating angel-like around our heads, we – for brief moments – immersed ourselves in the mystery. The music we sang stretched my vocal boundaries. I found myself wailing out to God my longing and pain. The Sufi Quwwali singers Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Sharam Nazeri especially influenced me. For the first time, I began to find my voice.
In 2005 I went to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. On my way to the blues tent I passed by the gospel tent. I was drawn to the sounds I heard on the other side of that white wall. Within 5 minutes I was in tears and dancing to the music which praised God in a way I had never heard before.
I came home and joined the Twin City Community Gospel Choir directed by Robert Robinson. For 5 years my vocal boundaries were again stretched by Gospel’s passion-filled longing for spirit. For me, the connection between Sufi chanting and gospel is undeniable.
I soon stirred them together in a soulful stew of sound which I attempt to bring to the musical banquet that is the Wild Moon Bhaktas.
I continue to work on the connection between music and spirituality. I am a wandering soul with a hunger for beauty as well as a propensity for mistrust and cynicism.
Every heartfelt chant and every bluesy moan carries me across the bridge between my musical self and my spiritual self. Without the blessing of this music I would simply be a wandering soul. I am awash with gratitude to be a small part of this great tradition.