Prahlad performs and gives presentations on the mbira, a musical instrument created and performed by the Shona people of Zimbabwe. Made of metal keys attached to a wooden sound board, it’s played in religious ceremonies and social gatherings. Bottle caps attached to the board vibrate when when the keys are plucked, producing a sound intended to invoke the spirits. For amplification, an mbira player might play the instrument inside a carved gourd known as a deze.
In recent years Prahlad has helped to bring Zimbabwean performers such Fradreck Mujuru and Musekiwa Chingodza to Columbia, Missouri. He also has formed an mbira ensemble with students and faculty from the University of Missouri School of Music.
Prahlad performs mbira with Abby Rehard and Megan Arns during the True/False Film Festival March 2-5, 2017.
MU Peace Studies
Prahlad’s music career began at age 14, when he started taking piano lessons from the church pianist. He went on to play for several church choirs as a teenager. Inspired by folk singers such as Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, he began teaching himself guitar at 17, soon falling in love with country blues giants like Mississippi John Hurt. He was nourished by a steady diet of recorded and live blues in the 1970s, first in Richmond, Virginia, and then in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the early ’80s, Prahlad met musicians such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Taj Mahal, John Lee Hooker, Elizabeth Cotton, Sonny Rhodes, Muddy Waters, and George Harmonica Smith, sometimes playing opening sets or just sitting down to play with them.
While working on degrees in folklore in Berkeley and Los Angeles, Prahlad was exposed to ethnic and folk music communities from the United States and around the world. He became a student of the renowned Sierra Leonean guitarist/songwriter Souleman Rowgie and learned traditional “palm wine” guitar and other African highlife styles. Around this same time, he was submerged in reggae and Nyahbingi music and was introduced to African mbira music by a student of Dumisani Maraire, an mbira master from Zimbabwe. Throughout the ’80s he worked on songwriting while expanding his musical skills on instruments including ethnic drums, mbira, guitar, keyboards, and birumbau, for a brief period working with a band to perform some of his own songs and reggae covers.
In 2008, Prahlad released Hover Near, an album of original blues music integrating Piedmont style traditions with folk, Caribbean and African influences.