LEWISTON — Practice was becoming more difficult and confusing four years ago for Portland musician Kafari. A troubling situation for someone with a dream of one day becoming a pianist in New York City.

His mentor, a jazz pianist, responded with the best advice Kafari had ever received, words he now describes as practical and profound.

“You have to fall in love with practicing.”

Those eight words allowed Kafari to step away from the piano without guilt and experiment with another instrument that fascinated him — a hand percussion instrument called rhythm bones.

Kafari handed out rhythm bones to the 30 or so people who came to hear his Great Falls Forum talk Thursday at the Lewiston Public Library, and took at least 10 minutes to teach them all how to play the 7-inch, curved wooden sticks.  

It was part of his presentation, “Seeking Wholeness in the Creative Process: Practice, Performance and Community.”

Kafari, an alias for Ahmad Hassan Muhammad, is a 2010 graduate of Bowdoin College. Calling himself a pianist, beatmaker, bluegrass percussionist and community artist, he shared experiences from that musical journey to help the audience examine its own creative process.

His creativity was jolted by his mentor’s wise words.

“Those words forced me to reorder the structure of my universe,” he said.

That creative universe became the rhythm bones. He didn’t play the piano for a year.

“If you’re not in love with the creative process, what are you doing?” he asked. “Why are you wasting your time on something that isn’t incredibly magical?”

Rhythm bones, a relatively simple instrument, similar to spoons, have been around for centuries, notably in African-American music, old American music and bluegrass. Now made of wood, they were once made from actual ribs of animals.

Kafari practiced with the bones for hours as he once again fell in love with practicing.

“I could even practice in my car, which you can’t do with a piano,” he said.

The journey was exciting and scary, he said. There was no path for him to follow, but his mentor’s words kept him on track.

Roughly a year later, Kafari heard a well-known classical piece by Chopin that stopped him in his tracks. Despite knowing the piece, he said it was as if he had never heard it before. He had to learn to play it.

The piano was again part of his universe.

To stay in love with practicing, whether the art is music, painting, writing, ceramics or some other form, Kafari suggested keeping a practice log with four columns: practice time, grade, focus and notes. 

A grade would be your own calculation on how successful you were in using that time. Focus would include listing what your plan was for that session and how well you met that goal. Notes, he said, could include anything from how you feel to what you discovered and what was on your mind.

He added that baby steps are important in the creative process in any art form. He added that starting is difficult, but once you start warming up, everything becomes easier.

Artists need to keep community in mind, Kafari said. Can everyone attend or are certain segments of the population not welcome at a particular venue? He noted feeling uncomfortable during a performance when the police showed up to kick out a homeless person in attendance.

“Where we play our music matters,” Kafari said. “Where we show our art matters.”



Kafari, a Portland-based pianist, beatmaker, bluegrass percussionist and community artist entertains the crowd at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday. Kafari spoke at the Great Falls Forum about the creative process. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Kafari, a Portland-based pianist, beatmaker, bluegrass percussionist and community artist was the featured speaker at Thursday’s Great Falls Forum at the Lewiston Public Library. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Sean Morin of Auburn, left, speaks with musician and Maine Academy of Modern Music instructor Kafari prior to the start of Thursday’s Great Falls Forum in Lewiston.  (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

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