Back in Dubai

National Day lights in Dubai

It’s always fascinating being back in Dubai; the pace of life here is fast and changes mount up at an extraordinary rate so I’m always forced to spend my first few days scanning the horizon for new towers, making certain our favourite restaurants haven’t been replaced and asking the same old questions of why anyone with a modicum of commercial acumen would open a shop that sells only decorative dried fruit and flower petals.

We’ve been sandwiched between the Islamic New Year holiday and the 41st National Day celebrations – JLo has just strutted her stuff and we are enduring the world skydiving championships, which will be warbled to a close by Katy Perry. Dubai is feeling good about itself if a bit too glitzy but thankfully, from a personal point of view at least, we have an evening with Al Jarreau later this week.

The Government has just confirmed that the recession is over – officially. A new city is to be built on the outskirts that will include just what Dubai needs – the biggest shopping mall on the planet; Universal Studios will headline a new leisure park and the Dubai Mall, currently the biggest mall on the planet, will be expanded. No one in this den of iniquity needs further encouragement; new villa projects are being purchased off-plan within 48 hours in a repeat of the mayhem we experienced in 2008 and a planned extension to an estate called Arabian Ranches is already 80% sold. That’s before a put-upon labourer from Kerala has even stuck a shovel in the ground.

How times move on. Back in the day it was pleasant to return to a country that hadn’t changed while you were away and where consistency was held as a virtue. Life was filled with the same old friends and the same old haunts and there existed a reassuring sameness. These days I experience an increasingly pervasive feeling that most people alongside me in the queue at the traffic lights are simply mad or three-quarters of the way to it.

A popular song then was Back in Dubai, sung by a guy called Sal Davies. On one occasion after returning from London I was at dinner in the Dubai Country Club, where he was playing. What I didn’t know was that my friend and host, a significant Pakistani businessman, was an old friend of Sal. After starting his set he moved on to tell the audience that he’d had a request for an old favourite and, as the lights went down the spotlight came up on our table, and Back in Dubai was sung to us as I wriggled uneasily in excruciating embarrassment. The tune isn’t memorable for much more than that evening at the Country Club, but as I hear about another US$1 trillion being committed to new projects I get a little nostalgic and miss the way it used to be.  Here’s Sal in a recording made a few years later.

3 Replies to “Back in Dubai”

  1. Hi there. I actually grew up in Dubai and I have been thinking about that song “Back in Dubai” recently and have been trying to do some research on it and Sal Davies who sang it. Unfortunately there is very little information about this musician on the internet. The only Sal Davies that I can find is a Kenyan musician. Can you tell me anything about the Sal Davies that you met? Do you know if in fact he was Kenyan?

    There also seems to be a historical mixup… The only youtube video of the music seems to credit ‘The Establishment’ and ‘Sal Davies’, but so far what I’ve found is that these were two different acts and they had never in fact met one another. I believe that whoever pressed that album put a single from each of these acts on one record together… ‘The Establishment’s Life In The Emirates and Sal Davies ‘Back in Dubai’. For this reason, people generally credit The Establishment as the musicians for that song.

    If you could help clarify whether Sal Davies was one of the guys in the picture in the video you posted that would be a great help in unravelling this mystery of my childhood!

    Thanks in advance!!!

    1. Hello Nima

      Sal Davies is the man from Kenya – actually, I think it was Tanzania but I’m not certain as I’ve read he was born in Mombasa – and, as far as I know, he wasn’t associated with ‘The establishment’ at all; I wouldn’t know if they actually met each other. He is not featured on the album cover, which confuses the two separate acts. I remember Sal as a nightclub crooner and quite separate from the folksy duo that sang ‘Life in the Emirates’.

      Sal was an established entertainer from East Africa before I first arrived in Dubai in 1978. He had appeared at the Safari club on the Creek fairly regularly but had left the Emirates some time before the gig at the Country Club, which was something of a ‘return appearance’ for him. I recall that he had a request show on the radio in Dubai around that time for a while but it wasn’t long-lasting. Dubai was beginning to change very fast then and the nightclub scene disappeared so he was out of the public eye fairly quickly.

      He had previously been associated with a nightclub known as the Sal Davies Night Spot in Nairobi [which later became the Bonanza or Madhouse and then the New Florida Nightclub] but I have no verification of that information. I understand he is now retired in Mombasa but makes an occasional guest appearance.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by – I hope this will give you some directions to search in and I’d appreciate hearing from you if you unearth some more information.

  2. Hi nima, the sal davies you found during your research is indeed the one who sang the song.He is now 73 years old, and was born in Mombasa Kenya.You can find some of his latest interviews on youtube.I hope this info helps.



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