Movies, books, and songs to capture the essence of Dubai and get you in the mood for travel

Movies

Al Hilm (2005)
Lighthearted comedy-drama Al Hilm (The Dream), the U.A.E.’s first feature film, imaginatively follows an aspiring young filmmaker’s struggles to write a screenplay; set in Dubai’s suburban streets of low-rise white villas and palm trees, and the emirate’s undulating red desert dunes.

Syriana (2005)
Controversial drama set in an “unspecified oil-rich Arab state,” yet for U.A.E. residents, Dubai was as much of a star as George Clooney and Matt Damon; much of the action takes place on Dubai’s streets, construction sites, desert, and deserted highways.

Code 46 (2004)
Science-fiction film starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton set in an “unspecified city of the future,” but Dubai locals recognize their futuristic city and its surrounding bleak desert; the Emirates Towers and sleek skyscrapers of Sheikh Zayed Road stole the show.

Dubai (2005)
Set almost entirely in Dubai, this heartfelt melodrama (a hit with the Philippine diaspora) centers on a love triangle among three attractive young Filipino guest workers who move to the cosmopolitan city in search of a better future; postcard images of Dubai’s star sights such as Dubai Creek, desert, beaches, and Burj Al Arab.

Books

Dubai Tales, by Mohammad Al Murr (1990)
Collection of charming, occasionally controversial, and compelling short stories by one of Dubai’s few Emirati authors translated into English; provides a peek into Emirati homes, domestic life, and personal relationships.

The Wink of the Mona Lisa and Other Stories From the Gulf, by Mohammad Al Murr (1994)
Another engaging selection of stories offering an all-too-rare insight into the rich traditional culture and daily life of Arabia.

Coffee and Dates, edited by Shihab Ghanem (2007)
Anthology of Emirati poetry and short stories, translated into English; the lyrical pieces touch on a gamut of topics from love and marriage to the loss of traditional life.

Telling Tales: An Oral History of Dubai, by Julia Wheeler and Paul Thuysbaert (2005)
Moving personal accounts of how dramatically everyday life has changed in Dubai in its rapid metamorphosis from tranquil fishing village to frenetic Arabian metropolis; told by Dubai’s most prominent citizens and illuminated with stunning black-and-white images.

Father of Dubai: Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, by Graeme Wilson (1999)
Fascinating biography of the founder of modern Dubai and father of current Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, chronicling the challenges Sheikh Rashid faced and opportunities he seized to develop Dubai.

Music

Compilations:

Arabian Nights: Club and Chillout Classics
An exotic two-CD compilation, the first for the clubs and the second for the Majlis (the room in an Arab home where the family entertains guests)—perfect for a shisha party.

Blue Bedouin
Hussain Al Bagali’s intoxicating mix of Arabian Gulf rhythms and Western grooves is irresistible.

Electric Oasis: Exotic Arabian Grooves
A deft mix of traditional instruments and rhythms and dance-floor savvy beats—you can break dance or belly dance to this.

The Arabian Latin Chillout Experience
Improbably, Ahmad Ghannoum’s Arab-fusion grooves meets bossa nova beats actually gels—and beautifully—aided by Layal Watfeh's super-smooth Arabic vocals in this Lemonada album.

Oryx
The first CD to come out of Dubai Media City’s community of talented musicians, it’s a fascinating mix of ambient Arabian instrumentals and electronic dance.

Classic Songs:

Dubai’s traditional song and dance is improvisational and best seen performed live at the Heritage and Diving Village. Young Emiratis favor khaliji, the popular music from the gulf, still bought predominantly on cassette. Contemporary Arabic fusion, lounge, and pop music is what you’ll hear at bars, cafés, clubs; here are some of the most popular recent Dubai beats:

  1. “Abali” by Lemonada
  2. “One Thousand and One Nights/Alf Leyla We Leyla” (2007 remix) by Said Mrad
  3. “Eshebo” by Etti Ankry
  4. “Awakenings” by Oryx
  5. “Hasafah” by Diana Haddad

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