Tania Malik’s Hope You Are Satisfied is a propulsive novel that brings to life Dubai of the late ’80s.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
“Malik’s novel tautly occupies the in between. Dubai itself pulls many of the strings, with a dark glamour…. A suspenseful story stowed in the moment before a major historical event”
Revisiting Dubai when it was a small coastal city that had not yet morphed into the sophisticated, dynamic metropolis that it is today, Hope You Are Satisfied takes place in the six months leading up to the first Gulf War in 1990, and reveals the city and the period through the eyes and experiences of a group of young guest workers, mainly from Asia and Africa. They are low level customer service agents employed by a two-bit tour operating company offering vacation packages to Western European tourists who come to Dubai for the clean, beautiful beaches and sanitized version of exotic Arabia. When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait, and American and other coalition forces begin gathering in the region, these young people find themselves in the center of what may very well be the next world war.
It was the many job opportunities that prompted people the world over to move to the region, bringing with them a diversity of cultures, such as music. One could go down a winding lane in the souk and there’d be an Indian film song playing from the boombox in a shop while on the street over the legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum would croon about love, loss, and longing from the speaker of a small café, and farther down the calypso rhythms of ska or an Arabic pop song would hold sway. In the clubs at night, European techno and American pop would shake the walls.
The following playlist of songs from that era and more recent works aims to evoke not only the novel but the melding of those sounds, how they came together yet retained their individuality, a soundtrack of different languages and genres that accompanied the bustle of a city at the cusp of an immense and unimaginable evolution.
“Antisocial” – Trust
When I first heard this song by the 1977 French punk heavy metal band, Trust, I was struck more by the lyrics than their sound, which was heavily influenced by AC/DC and Iron Maiden. The English translation of the first line goes “you work all your life to pay for your tombstone.” This song is a favorite of Hanna’s, one of the characters in the novel, who works as a tour guide. Hanna is from Germany and is drawn to Trust and their songs that highlight social injustices, and like them, she rails against the hypocrisy stemming from any kind of dogma, be it religious or political.
“American Boy” – Estelle, Kanye West
Before the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq there weren’t many American citizens in the region. Those who were there worked for the oil companies. Once President Bush decided to help Kuwait in order to protect American interests, US armed forced began to pour in. Many would come to Dubai for R&R, and they were suddenly everywhere–in the markets, the malls, the city parks. The protagonist of the novel, Riya, befriends two young American sailors, and they join her and her friends for a hedonistic day that stands in stark contrast to the battle and the uncertain fate that awaits them once the war begins.
“Rock Me Amadeus” – Falco
An ear worm if there ever was one, this techno-pop song was a crossover hit in clubs not only in the US but other parts of the world as well. There is something about a throng of drunk, sweaty people shouting “Amadeus, Amadeus” into the ether when the DJ briefly pauses the music to allow for this collective experience. “Rock Me Amadeus” remained a popular song in the clubs long after its release in the mid-1980s.
“Boushret Kheir” – Hussain Aljassmi
Hussain Aljassmi, from the United Arab Emirates, is one of the most popular singers in the Arab world. He fuses pop, jazz, folk and R&B while slipping between dialects from his native Emirati, to Egyptian to English. This is a get out and vote song that he dedicated to the Egyptians at the time of their 2014 election. It’s hard to resist clapping along to the fast beat.
“Gazab Ka Hai Din” – Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan
There was music always blaring out onto the streets from the stores and food stalls in the different markets, and none more so than Indian film songs. This one from the 1988 hit movie Qayamat se Qayamat Tak (From Apocalypse to Apocalypse) was a story of first love. The song itself speaks to living in the wonderful madness of the moment, of being present and of treasuring the time together even as it is hurling them toward an unknown and uncertain destination.
“Blaze of Glory” – Jon Bon Jovi
Before there was the internet and Spotify, one of the avenues through which everyone caught up with the latest music from the USA was American Top 40 on the radio, which inspired the desire in many young guest workers to immigrate to the USA or Canada after their employment in Dubai had ended. With its distinct western sound about gunslingers and men who followed their own moral code, forged their own destinies even if they went down in, well, “a blaze of glory,” this song from the late eighties personified a credo of the American way that was very appealing.
“Malaika” – Miriam Makeba
One of the most famous songs in Swahili, “Malaika” meaning “angel” was first recorded years before Miriam Makeba’s version helped bring it to a global audience. Hailing from South Africa, Makeba was known as Mama Africa or the Empress of African Song and the lilting beauty of her voice poignantly captures the pain and yearning of unrealized love.
“Ya Tabtab Wa Dallaa” – Nancy Ajram
A complex and rich art form, the circles, shimmies, and undulations of what is known as “belly dancing” can often be reduced to a touristic spectacle and is usually part of the evening’s entertainment for visitors on a desert safari. The enthralling and almost surreal movements, the twinkles of light reflecting off the sequined costumes, and the twists and contortions of the performance speaks a language that is up to the beholder to interpret. A well-known Lebanese pop singer, Nancy Ajram’s hit songs can often be heard accompanying this celebratory, ancient dance that still has the power to beguile.
“Against All Odds” – Phil Collins
In my novel, time and friendship are finite for the guest workers. At some point they will move away, return home, or immigrate to some other far away country. In this time before social media, the chance of reconnecting again or meeting is almost impossible. They’ve “shared the laughter and the pain” as the song goes, and now what remains is “an empty space.”
Tania Malik is the author of the novel Three Bargains that received a Publishers Weekly and Booklist starred review. She was educated in boarding schools in the foothills of the Himalayas and has had a varied career in the travel and non-profit fields. She was raised in India, Africa, and the Middle East and currently lives in San Francisco’s Bay Area. She can be found at @taniamalik on Instagram and www.taniamalik.com.