“Tea in the Sahara” by The Police
The Police’s “Tea in the Sahara” is based on a story found in one of the chapters of a 1949 novel entitled “The Sheltering Sky” by American author Paul Bowles. In fact that particular section of the book is likewise entitled “Tea in the Sahara”. And that novel overall happens to be a personal favorite of Sting, the lead singer of The Police and the artist who wrote this tune. Accordingly this track gives an overview of the tale but leaves certain details out.
For instance, we find in the first verse that the narrator and his sisters have decided to fulfill a particular wish that they have. Well it should be noted that the narrator is also a female, as in this song being recited partially from a female’s perspective. And the “strange obsession” they have is to enjoy tea with a particular prince in the desert, i.e. the Sahara, meaning that the characters are likely North Africans. In fact at certain points, such as the chorus, said prince is the addressee of the song. Also it would appear that these three sisters are dancers. And it has also been suggested, based on the original narrative, that the three of them are indeed working girls.
So in the second verse they do dance for the prince, presumably in the desert. And he’s digging it very much. But eventually he departs and tells them that he’s going to return. It’s not clear if he pledged to return that very day or the following year. But it implication is that he left and said he would be back later in the day. Yet whatever the particulars, they do wait for him in the desert deep into the night, and he never returns. In fact they wait for him for so long that they end up perishing in that hostile environment.
So perhaps the line “beneath the sheltering sky”, which is obviously a shoutout to Paul Bowles’ book, is meant to be ironic in nature. For the sky was not able to save these women from such a horrible fate. And at the end of it all, according to the tale, they are eventually discovered by a passing caravan some days later “with their cups still full of sand”.
Facts about “Tea in the Sahara”
“Tea in the Sahara” was written by Sting. He doubted if Paul Bowles, the writer of the book it is based on, ever heard the tune. But Sting still proclaimed this track as one of his “favorite songs”.
“Tea in the Sahara” was produced by Hugh Padgham and The Police. In terms of the latter it is the unique guitar playing of Andy Summers, a bandmate of Sting’s, which is said to define this song.
A&M Records released “Tea in the Sahara” on 1 June 1983. It was originally featured on The Police’s hit album “Synchronicity” and has made an appearance on a couple of their compilation projects since.
The following year a live version of the song, which served as the B-side to “Wrapped Around Your Finger” in the US and “King of Pain” in the UK, was also issued as a single.