Satwa Stories, a spoken word performance by Mahmoud Kaabour & Denise Holloway

Short Docs/Branded Content

(Full lyrics of the poem below)
Satwa Stories is a multi-disciplinary project by Mahmoud Kaabour and Denise Holloway, made in 2008 to commemorate the market of Dubai’s Al Satwa neighborhood, which was slated for demolition. The redevelopment plans were impeded by the financial recession, allowing Al Satwa to live on. The spoken word piece was presented at Pecha Kucha 2008 at Third Line Gallery to imagery by Siddharth Siva. The piece was accompanied by live double bass by Nabil Amarshi.

In 2021, the poem was presented again with minor revisions at Hekayah, a spoken word event at The Arts Center of New York University Abu Dhabi, in a special edition marking the 50th anniversary of the UAE.
The performance marks a significant inclusion of a neighborhood long-considered as an eye-sore into the heritage of the UAE.

Filmmakers Mahmoud Kaabour & Denise Holloway were also invited to give a workshop at NYUAD titled Satwa Stories: Poetic Explorations Through Documentary Techniques to explain the methods of creating this piece.

Satwa Stories (text)

Turn right around at the roundabout
to the low rise before the high rise
And you’re on Satwa.
It’s a true cross-section, a hidden backstage, a mighty driving engine.
It’s the center of this wheel.

Rooms and alleys, dreams expanded and hopes dashed. We came here for ‘bezat’ or ‘suweldo’, building cities by day/ falling asleep to broken voices on our devices. We live for the promise of bread, so all dreams hang on the baker.

Niyaz refuses to be dwarfed by those towers or give them much mind. He’s too busy sifting and kneading and baking ‘Sangaak’ while longing for the Hindu Kush. He will not believe that man cannot live on bread alone. Has not salt, water, flour, and yeast made this city rise? He’s even given Satwa its own moon, higher than any architect’s wildest dream.

And that moon cuts day shift to night shift, an important line when sleep has a price. Public space, work space, park space AND bed space - Satwa’s unique commerce. We sleep together but not together and split our dreams in two. Day pays, night pays, all the money’s in the bed.

What am I looking for today?
Keys cut, suit made, windows tinted? A haircut and a shave? Just a ramble in the streets, Karak with friends, a ten dirham DVD or a tangle of quarter inch tape. Memories and past realities…fading images on obsolete formats: Super 8, High 8, and Betamax! Little here is out of date.
Through the alleys and up the stairs, hiding and revealing, slowing down to touch and perhaps claim a Ghazal or two?

The Darzi Master quietly shakes his head at your endless requests: Business casual / buttoned-up, clean and crisp/ a wedding kurta or same-same designer dress? Not a sleeve too long nor a stitch too many, always bespoke like the fabric of this city.

A superhero in the shadow stops for a break, weaves our lives into a cape, and becomes Satwaman!
The countless fragments in his countless frames: calligraphies, watercolors, beaming faces & golden dunes.
He is the holder of history, keeper of memory, archivist for the future.
Time cannot touch him. Can you save us Satwa man?

Masala, Paratha, Palak.
Mughlai, Korma and extra Daal.
The Last Supper will be at Ravi’s so let’s all be disciples.

On Satwa there’s ALWAYS something about to happen.
On a corner, dodging traffic, jumping signals then jumping friends, missing a cab then with it reuniting. Generation. Bus Station, Cohabitation, Transformation. Dust into towers, sand into glass, and sweat into cash.