Felahi was formed in 2005 by Charlie Obert, his wife Cindy Kissee, and Avni Pandya. The band’s initial focus was to play for Minneapolis’ Tribal dance group, Totally Northern Tribal, but it quickly developed into a musical ensemble that specialized in playing for amateur dancers at other venues such as the monthly Banat al Kamar haflas (a.k.a. Pratt haflas). A secondary goal of the group was to jump-start a community of amateur drummers that would perform for local dancers.
The name Felahi was chosen as it stems from the Arabic word ‘fellahin’ meaning peasant or country person. The musicians took great pride in playing for avocational dancers, amateurs, and people dancing just for the fun of it. Their unofficial motto was ‘Belly dance music for the rest of us.’
Felahi’s musical style was influenced by Eddie ‘The Sheik’ Kochak, Chris Kalogerson, Turkish bellydance music, and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. Originally their music was what could be called ‘neo-retro’ style – an all acoustic ensemble with a folk feel. Later on the band experimented with adding keyboards and rock guitar over traditional bellydance rhythms, deliberately choosing easily danceable rhythms with simple arrangements.
In 2006, Keith Spears and Rebeca Sharpe joined the group; Dave Stagner, Brian Timm, and Courtney Faragher joined in 2007. Combining all these musical talents allowed Felahi to further their unique and recognizable sound utilizing doumbek, tar, jumbush, jumbush saz, guitar, recorder, pocket clarinet, keyboard, and assorted hand percussion instruments such as zills, claves, riq, and triangle.
In late 2007 Felahi decided to disband, but you can still experience their Music. Click Here for the experience.
Many of the members are still involved in the Twin Cities music and belly dance communities. Charlie Obert still occasionally drums for dancers sings with the Minnesota Sacred Harp. Cindy Kissee passed away in November, 2009. Keith Spears formed a new musical group, Opeline Ruse, of which Avni Pandya is a member. Dave Stagner continues to play with different musical groups, and Brian Timm is continuing the secondary goal of Felahi by leading a world drumming group.
Many thanks to Charlie Obert for providing the information for this article.