Sting sang this as a duet with the Algerian singer Cheb Mami, who was very popular in France and brought the Rai style of folk music to an international audience. Sting brought him in to make the song sound more authentic, and the collaboration introduced Mami to a Western audience. Mami made news in 2005 when he was accused of abducting his former girlfriend and trying to force an abortion on her because he was ashamed to have an illegitimate child. The abortion attempt failed, and the woman later gave birth to a girl. Mami was sentenced to 5 years in prison by a French court.
Cheb Mami wrote some of the lyrics in Arabic. Sting did not know what they meant, but they happened to follow the same theme as Sting's English lyrics - "longing." Sting noted in Lyrics By Sting: "Mami started to improvise an intoxicating sliding melisma, reminiscent of an Islamic call to prayer. Instantly, it sounded authentic and galvanizing. He then sang the verse I commissioned in Arabic. His phrases matched the gait of the melody as perfectly as a horse and rider."
Sting performed this with Mami at the 2000 Grammys.
Artists like Sting who play to adult audiences have a hard time getting their songs played on the radio and have very little chance of getting on MTV. This makes it very hard to promote their new songs. Sting's manager at the time, Miles Copeland (brother of Stewart Copeland from The Police), found a new way to promote this song and helped make it a hit. When they shot the video, they needed a stylish car that would show Sting being driven through the desert on the way to a club. The director used a new Jaguar S-Type, and when the video was done, Copeland thought it looked like a car commercial. Copeland sent the video to Jaguar's advertising agency and asked them to make their car commercial look like the video in exchange for free use of the song. The Jaguar people loved the idea and ran commercials featuring the song that looked very similar to the video. This got the song heard, which resulted in radio play and a hit record. For Jaguar, they got great exposure in the video and use of a hit song in their commercial, which made people more likely to watch it. Sales of Jaguars jumped as younger buyers checked out the cars. Copeland and Sting found a new way to promote a song.
This was released in September 1999, but did not gain popularity until it was used in the Jaguar commercial in March 2000. It finally hit the US Top-10 in August.
Before making the deal with Jaguar, Sting's record company planned on selling about 1 million albums and paying $1.8 million to market it, including $800,000 to make the video. Jaguar bought about $8 million in commercial time for the ad, which promoted the song every time it ran. The album ended up selling over 4 million copies.
Many classic songs have been used in car commercials, but this was the first time a new song by a contemporary artist was featured. A lot of deals have been made since, as artists like Sheryl Crow and Incubus have teamed up with car companies in cross-promotion deals.
Sting performed this at the pregame show of Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa.
In 2001, Sting went on a world tour where he played various exotic locations, including the Baalbek International Festival in Lebanon.
Sting planned a festival tour in the US called "Desert Roses and Arabian Rhythms," featuring musicians from Egypt, Algeria, and Iran. It was scheduled to start September 14, 2001, but was canceled when the US was attacked by terrorists on September 11.
The violinist featured is Lili Hayden, who has played with Porno for Pyros, Sasha Lazard, and Seal. (thanks, Ram Dass - San Francisco, CA)
Sting had a role in the movie Dune, which is partially set on a desert planet. He played Feyd-Rautha. (thanks, John - Colorado Springs, CO)
Sting re-sang the vocals for a dance remix of the song by Victor Calderone, recommended to him by Madonna, and the track went to #1 on the Billboard Max-Singles chart.