World’s First Sufi Opera Singer from London, U.K.
London-based British Asian soprano Saira Peter is Pakistan’s first operatic singer and is helping create a new genre “Sufi Opera”, which adapts traditional sufi stories to musical stage productions for a global audience. Professionally trained in both Western and Desi classical voice, she has the rare ability to span diverse genres: Western operatic to Eastern classical, semi-classical, pop, film and everything in between. She has performed in 16 languages (English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Latin, Urdu, Sindhi, Hindi, Punjabi, Sairiki, Farsi, Tamil, Arabic, Swahili, Cantonese) and is devoted to promoting human inclusion worldwide through her music.
Saira is Director of NJ Arts London, a performing arts centre and artist community opened in 1998 by British megastar Sir Cliff Richard OBE, who remained Patron until 2017. From there she teaches, runs events that bring communities together through the arts, and hosts itinerant artists from around the world.
Saira is coached in Western classical voice by Music Director Paul Knight (student of iconic British opera composer Sir Benjamin Britten) and Rosemary Ashe (original lead “Phantom of the Opera”).
Saira’s academic training provides her a scientific approach to music and her own multicultural immersive learning enables her to build bridges between otherwise separated worlds. She tours US universities giving academic lectures, workshops and live shows on Sufi music values and comparison of Eastern and Western classical singing technique. As a high profile alumnus of University of Karachi (MSc Physical Chemistry) she is a visiting lecturer and because of her philanthropic endeavours the Chemistry Department has named a chemistry lab in her honour.
Saira has given exclusive interviews to OZY Media (USA, online reach: 50 million), BBC Radio, Al Jazeera, National Geographic (French edition), GEO TV UK, PTV Global, Dunya TV EUROPE, C44, Sabras Radio and others, as well as multiple newspapers and magazines in North Africa, South Africa, Germany, China. She is the subject of several full-length documentaries: Apex TV UK, APP (Associated Press of Pakistan) and in South Africa on her values as a “Sufi Opera” singer. In the UK, Saira has performed live on MA TV, Venus TV, Dunya TV, etc.
On Pakistan’s reality singing competition “Voice of Sindh” (Sindh TV) she was a Final Judge (2013: Season 2) and was Chief Judge (2014: Season 3). Saira’s live performances and humanitarian work are often breaking news on Pakistan media e.g. GEO, ARY, PTV, APP TV, APNA, C42, DAWN, AabTak, Duniya, Samaa, ATV, KTN etc. She has given detailed interviews for print publications Jang, News International, Dawn, Daily Express, Akhbar-e-Jehan, Social Diary, She Magazine, Women’s Own, Libas International – and others. She was specially featured as Pride of Pakistan in a full-page interview as part of a special series in Daily Times (Aug 2020).
Saira has given solo performances around the world: the only soloist at an international peace conference for 5,000 delegates from 192 nations (Cape Town, South Africa), British Museum (London), London City Hall (Mayor of London headquarters), throughout the UK, and in USA, Germany, France and Switzerland.
She has performed with numerous established western artists, including:
- Paul Knight, renowned UK Musical Director and theatre composer
- Michael Rouse, West End actor and film star (“Murder on the Orient Express” 2017, Legolas in “Lord of the Rings”musical, “Romeo and Juliet” etc).
- Emma Chrispin, Choreographer and film/TV actress (“Cats”; “Chicago”; “The Producers”; “Beyond the Sea”; etc).
- Jon Ranger, Conductor and Musical Director (“Magic at the Musicals” Royal Albert Hall; “Lion King”, “Aladdin”, etc)
- Louise Ainley – Director of Higher Education, Central School of Ballet, London
Paul Knight and Jon Ranger have performed with Saira in the UK and Pakistan.
Saira’s performances in Pakistan include soloist, Islamabad Arts Fest 2019, the nation’s largest ever international arts event, where she was awarded ‘Best Musical Performance’. At International Music Fest Islamabad (2019), she was the only artist invited to perform three different genres. Most of Pakistan’s major venues have hosted her solo concerts: Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA, Islamabad), Al Hamra (Lahore), Punjab Institute of Language, Arts and Culture (PILAC, Lahore), Governor House Karachi (29/Mar/17 and 12/Apr/17), Arts Council of Pakistan (Karachi), Pakistan-American Cultural Centre (PACC, Karachi), China-Pakistan Cultural Exchange grand finale (Karachi), All Pakistan Music Conference 2016 (Al Hamra, Lahore), 2nd International Sufi Conference (Mohatta Palace, Karachi), Lok Virsa Cultural Festival (Islamabad) and many others. Saira was a featured performer at the 2014 and 2016 official Urs celebrations for sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Bhit Shah, which each drew over 5,000 listeners. She was also the main artist at a 3-day, 5,000-strong women’s conference in Karachi. Saira has performed and recorded with legendary Pakistani musicians Tafu Khan and Ballu Khan.
She is regularly invited by Pakistan High Commission London as a featured artist at all their official functions. She was the only artist invited to sing at the historic unveiling of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s bust (British Museum, London).
At the request of British Government offices in Hastings, UK, Saira recorded the British National Anthem. It is now used on their official social media and played at British citizenship ceremonies across the East Sussex region. Upon hearing the recording, the Queen’s Lady-in-waiting sent a letter of appreciation on behalf of Her Majesty.
She is also a commissioned writer and composer. She co-wrote the English book ‘Miracles of Isa’ which is currently in six languages (Urdu, Sindhi, Arabic, Farsi, Bulgarian), and translated Loes Tam’s book ‘God’s Perfect Design’ on the topic of women leadership from English to Urdu.
Saira has composed Punjabi scripture songs based on poetic rendering of the New Testament and produced an original album of Farsi ghazals from the poetry of Pakistan’s poet laureate Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum which was commissioned by Sufi Tabassum Academy, Lahore. Pakistan’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient singer Surraiya Multaniker also commissioned her for original new compositions. Khwajah Irfan Anwar, son of famed Indian/Pakistani film music director Khwajah Khurshid Anwar (1949 winner of Clare Award, Best Music Director and longtime mentor to Roshan Lal Nagrath and Shankar of Shankar Jaikishan), commissioned Saira to record his father’s unpublished composition Dil Ka Sitar. On national TV he stated “Saira Peter can easily sing my father’s compositions because she is trained in both Eastern and Western classical”.
In his autobiography ‘More Than a Game’, renowned senior BBC cricket commentator journalist Qamar Ahmed published Saira’s photo visiting Pakistan President Arif Alvi alongside a photo gallery of sports superstars and celebrities. During an exclusive concert for Gen Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani ex-President expressed his appreciation to Saira stating ‘You are a complete singer.’ Pakistani journalist Emmanuel Yousaf’s upcoming book on movers and shakers of Pakistan and its diaspora includes a twenty page feature on Saira Peter’s life and career so far.
- Sufi kalam of Hazrat Amir Khusrau (2006)
- First Stone (2009)
- Morey Mann Main Shah (Sufi kalam of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai) (2015)
- Resplendent (New English renderings of kalam of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai) (2016)
- Farsi ghazals (poetry of Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum) (2019)
- God is Not Dead (Words, Music and Vocals by Saira Peter) (2020)
- God is My Love (Words, Music, Vocals by Saira Peter) (2020)
- 2020 Marvi’s Marsiyas (Aria from upcoming sufi opera ‘Sufi Marvi) (2021)
Saira Peter is working with a team of professionals on an exciting new fusion opera genre called ‘Sufi Opera’. Her upcoming sufi opera “Sufi Marvi” is taken from sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s (1689-1752) story of Marvi, one of his seven heroines of Sindh, Pakistan. It tells how the king of Umerkot wanted to marry and commanded the people of his region to find him a bride. It was reported that a very beautiful maiden named Marvi lived in an impoverished desert village but was already engaged to one of the villagers. So King Umer set out with his men to kidnap Marvi and make her his queen by force. Marvi, who will be played by Saira, throws herself from her abductor’s camel and sings the aria “Marvi’s Marsiyas”, which Saira recently recorded. The song is a universal call for respect, honour and dignity for women everywhere with a message of justice and faithfulness to one’s own people. Sufi Marvi is the world’s first western operatic and North Indian classical fusion and marks the first attempt to bring a sufi story in English to opera lovers around the globe. It is set to be staged in London soon. The aria is in English with some Sindhi and Urdu words.
WHAT OTHERS SAY
- “On A High Note: Meet the World’s First Sufi Opera Singer” OZY Media (USA)
- “The Nightingale from London” The News International (Karachi)
- “You had the hair standing up on the back of my neck! And that was completely unrehearsed.” Kamlesh Purohit, BBC Radio UK
- “Sufi Opera: Where No Woman Has Gone Before.” Libas International, Volume 30, Issue 2.
- “Saira Peter is pioneering the fusion of Sufi music and opera.” Shahzeb Shaikh, Dawn (Karachi)
Unplugged Music & Talk Show with USTAD RASHID KHAN & PRADEEP UDHAS
Join Playback & Ghazal Singer, Bollywood Music Director and Senior Partner, KPMG India PRADEEP UDHAS along with Lorraine & Aubrey Aloysius as they chat with Banjo / Bul-Bul Tarang Maestro USTAD RASHID KHAN, while he shares his inspiring music and amazing life journey on this unique Unplugged Music & Talk Show on Sunday 14-February-2021 @ 5:00 PM IST.