Kafari. Photo by Ben Stas

There’s a show happening Thursday at Space in Portland that’s a prime example of how the venue often offers unique, out of the ordinary performances.

Called “Riffs and Lullabies,” it’s a collaboration that has been in the works for years – and was recently bolstered by a grant from Space – between a pianist and an animator/videographer, both based in Portland.

Cincinnati-born pianist Kafari (Ahmad Muhammad) will be playing a collection of new songs from a forthcoming album that was specifically composed for this show, on a two-tiered instrument he calls a Junopiano (piano below, Roland Juno keyboard above). At the same time, animator and videographer Dr. Scribbz (Jay Brown) will be projecting his work onto the stage.

Muhammad and Brown have known each other since Muhammad was a member of electronic band Jaw Gems between 2009 and 2018. Brown made several videos for the band, including the jaw-dropping “Star Visor” released nearly a decade ago. Muhammad is a huge fan of Brown’s work, and the two have remained friends and collaborators.

Over the past three years, they have shared music and film clips as they worked to create the “Riffs and Lullabies” show.

Funding for this performance came a few months ago from Space’s Sonic Vision Fund. Four awards of $2,500 were given out for what Space describes as “multimedia performance, collaborative art-making, and communal experiences, with inimitable visionary spirit.”


The show shares its name with a pair of albums by Muhammad, the first of which was released in 2015. “Riffs and Lullabies Vol. II” came out in the fall, and he will include some songs from it in the show Thursday.

That album, which features piano and keys along with a tiny bit of guitar and ambient sounds, was recorded over the course of five years with a Sony digital voice recorder, which means it feels like you’re in the room with him, maybe kicked back on a couch with low lighting. Tracks like “Afterhours” and “Sparks” are graceful and warm but also tender and evocative.

“Riffs and Lullabies Vol. II” isn’t background music, though it is conducive to having some quiet time alone. These songs glided into my ears and swirled around, pollinating my senses with a feeling of peace and protection from harm.

Muhammad said that at the Space performance, along with a few of the “Vol. II” tracks, he’ll play several new songs that will end up on an album he hopes to release later this year.

Animation still portrait of Kafari. Image by Dr. Scribbz

What’s more, Lisa/Liza (Liza Miller), a Wayne-based singer-songwriter with a dreamy/experimental sound, will also be performing. Muhammad gushed about her: “Her music is such a balm to me. Her authentic, heartfelt and original performances push me forward to me more vulnerable.”

On the afternoon of the Space show, Muhammad and banjoist/songwriter CRYS will lead a workshop rhythm bones, an Irish percussion instrument. After a presentation about the history of the bones, you’ll be guided through the basics of holding and playing them. The workshop is open to everyone, and bones will be available to borrow for the session.


Muhammad said he first became aware of rhythm bones when he saw the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the 2014 Bonnaroo Music Festival. He ordered his first set while he was still there and continues to play them every day. You’ll hear them during the Space show.

If you don’t make it to Space, you can catch Muhammad regularly at The Jewel Box in Portland, where he has a Monday residency (7:30 p.m. to midnight) that he’s been doing since 2019 (minus the pandemic shutdown). These shows are a huge part of his overall goals.

“My purpose on planet Earth is I want to create magical performances, and I want to see how far I can take that,” he said.

Kafari and Dr. Scribbz presents “Riffs and Lullabies” with Lisa/Liza
8 p.m. Thursday. Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, $12 in advance, $15 day of show. space538.org.

Rhythm Bones Workshop
3:30 p.m. Thursday. Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, free to $25 sliding scale. space538.org.

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