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Desert Rose by Sting

Album: Brand New DayReleased: 1999Charted:
  • 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 five 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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.
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Comments: 20

Actually Dune was set ENTIRELY on a desert planet. The parts that weren't desert were only there to set up the story. Frank Herbert built an ecologically sound world in which there was no rain and very, very few plants. (Where did the oxygen come from? They tell you in the books.)

But, yes, the video for this song was exceptional. It reminds me of when I used to ride. (Hold a horse close and you'll know what I mean... get to know a few and you'll know even more... learn to dance with one... and the world is your stage.)
Kev - Farmersville, Tx
Samiel, thanks for the translation, transliteration and the cultural insight, impressive! I always loved both the song and video. I thought the English lyrics have an Arabic poetry quality to them too, but now I'm getting the full grasp of it only.

The video (even though shot in the Mojave desert) reminds me of late night driving through the open region of the Negev desert of Israel, where only vast arid plains of rock lay empty on either side. And during those long night hikes in the desert, your only companions are whoever you bring along, mist, echoes, and the occasional bug. And of course, the night.

Even though all very different, there are many big deserts in the Middle East and North Africa. I imagine that one would get similar emotions from any of them on a restless, lonely night...
Abigail - Tel Aviv, Israel
This is a great song and Cheb Mami's singing is amazing. Unfortunately though, when I hear this song now I think of what he did to his ex-girlfriend. Really a shame.Doug - Los Angeles, Ca
i love the music video of this songStafler - Durban, South Africa
Hello everyone. I am a Lebanese Canadian. First of all, Cheb Mami is an arab, and that makes me so proud.....His voice, lets just say, it takes you places. Someone mentioned earlier on here that the word "aman" in the song means water. That is not true. Obviously they are not very familiar with the Arabic language. Let me start by translating what Cheb Mami is singing.....

A few things before translating:

the words "leyli ya leyli mean "oh my night Oh my night" Arabs sing about the night and tend to "talk" to the night in songs and poems especially when the poetic or singer is feeling sad. Since sadness keeps people up at night, far from being able to sleep at times, one finds him/herself alone (since everybody else is asleep) and that the night is their only companion, and given those who are hurt tend to want to express their feelings, the "night" hence, is there and listening. We the arabs are very affectionate and romantic people in our way ofcourse.

Ok now for "aman aman aman" contrary to what was aforementioned, aman aman does not mean water. Aman aman means "oh how i wish i wish i wish" Usually it correlates with a longing, a yearning of some kind, and so when you hear "aman aman aman" in arabic songs, then the singer most probably yearning for something, maybe something he/she had in the past and had lost, or something that hurt them for years and is still hurting them, or maybe about something they never had and want so badly.

basically the arab singer is very spiritual, sings to God, the night, the sun, the sea, etc etc.....

Now, notice the way we sing. I even sing the same way cheb mami does, although i am not able to hit that high note he can, or pitch it high up there....i wish i could have, this would allow me to do way more with my scaling.

the arabic scale is different than the western one. i believe there is more mystery and emotion in the arabic one. When you are bottled with emotions, and they need to come out, nothing does the job better than the arabic scale. you really feel light afterwards. Then again, this is just an opinion of mine. I also love listening to English music.

one last thing...notice the vibrations in cheb mami's voice or cords....i believe -but this is just my opinion-that the vibrations in the arabic style of singing, comes from our love for the flute. Im not sure what they call the instrument here, but it sounds exactly like a flute. lets call it the arabic flute. our appreciation for the arabic flute, over time, made us sing in a way where we would sound almost like the flute. Another thing is the vibrations tend to convey certain emotions. So when cheb mami at the end scales up, and then drops it, ( he did that live concerts mostly) its like he is saying "this is my story" or " farewell dear night" " or " dont forget my oh night" or "lest shall i forget you oh night" things like that....the point is to end it with emotion, with hope, a simple wish, and better day yet to come, or even just simply "this is what happened here, this is my story, this was my pain or this is my pain, and this is who you are to me, oh night" things like that.....

ok..now as to the translations:

layli ya layli
oh my night oh my night

hadi mudeh taweela
its been quite a while OR
what a long time its been

wu ena nhawis ena ala ghzey il tee
ive been looking/searching for my love
and im searching for my love
wu ena nhawis ena waaaaaa ala ghzaly
(same) only he says ghzaly this time, not ghzeyilty....

the difference here, well its like saying
ive been looking for the love of my life
ive been looking for the love of my life
ive been looking for my love

aman aman aman =insenuates pain, yearning, wishing, etc just as i had mentioned earlier

last part:
he uses again
wu ena nhawis ena ala ghzayelty
omri feeky inti ya
my whole life is for you/with you

now what i hear in the last one is this:
fish hada gherik
there is nobody else but you
ah ya inti inti ya
oh just you you love just you

anyways....hope that clarified some things
one more thing..not all arabs are terrorists, not all muslims are terrorists......and even those who really terrorists....well then, ask yourselves why that is.....anyways, take care...
Samiel - Beirut, Lebanon
It has been a long time,
And I am looking for myself and my loved one
My life is for you,
And no one other than you.

This is the translation of the Arabic singing by Cheb Miami thanks to Epinions.com
Nathaniel - Woodhull, Il
Debs, Scottie's saying that Desert Rose would've inspired a middle eastern music fad that was stunted by the events of 9/11. Jeez, illiteratemuch?

I don't expect you to check this, but at least other people won't be confused.
Devin - New York, Ny
i dont care wat all u other people say im just saying that this was and still is my favorite song. i never new there was supost to be a play in lebanon but it got canceledBaraa - Riverside, United States
I swear I didn't post that 3 times!Debs - Montgomery, Al
A middle Eastern music fad arise from 9/11... Desert Rose came out way before 9/11, dude.Debs - Montgomery, Al
Cheb Mami does NOT sound like a girl... crikey! Remember Barry Gibb? Desert Rose is an exotic, haunting song... it's haunted me for 6 years now... and for God's sake, the national language of Algeria IS Arabic... and Cheb can sing in Algerian Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, AND French... can you? I've seen two translations of Cheb's lyrics... I don't know which ones are the right ones...
" It has been a long time
And I am looking for myself and my loved one
And I am looking for myself and my loved one
And I am looking for myself and my loved one
My life is for you
And no one other than you "


" This is a long time
I'm the person who loves more
I'm the person who loves more
I'm the person who loves more
My life is for you and you are my life
There's nothing else but you
Only you "

Either way, they're beautiful... as he is.
Debs - Montgomery, Al
Is it just me, or does Cheb Mami sound like a girl? I'm pretty sure that he's a guy, but his voice seems to defy that notion... Is the Arabic language naturally high-pitched when it's sung, or something?Matthew - Milford, Ma
This song is so awesome...Matthew - Milford, Ma
Is Mami Singing what Sting Sings in Arabic? If not, Does anyone have the translations?Mike - Falmouth, Ma
i have got the brand new day album, and i have got desert rose as a single on tape. the song is fantastic and i love it, the trouble is, the tape quality has gone, so, does anyone know where i can get desert rose on cd single?? the single version is much better than the album version!Linda/rob Hummerston - Saltash, England
To Annabelle: Arab is the first official language in Algeria, french the second. And Algeria is not Middle east, but Northern Africa.

As far as I can still remember my arab, Cheb Mami sings about water (2aman") and a rose in the desert and teh hope for rain so the rose may not dry.

For me it is a beautiful song. As I have grown up in many countries (within them a year in Tunisia) it is a perfcet reunion of western and arab culture, poetry and music.

Martina Bedregal C., Germany
Martina - Kiel, Germany
Does anyone have the Arabic lyrics in the song as well as a translation? I can't seem to find one anywhere.Kristi - Hillsboro, Mo
I think Desert Rose is a fantastic song. Using musicians from the middle east was inspired. I reckon that a middle eastern music fad didn't arise because of 9/11. People have to stop stereotyping muslims.Scottie - Sydney, Australia
They speak Arabic and French in Algeria. It's part of the Maghreb region.Harper - Tucson, Az
If Cheb Mami is from Algeria, why was he singing in Arabic?Annabelle - Eugene, Or
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