World's First Sufi Opera singer

British Pakistani Saira Peter was born in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan and now lives in London. She has performed internationally in seventeen languages and has been classically trained in eastern and western classical music skills. She has a unique ability to move from one genre to another in one breath! Her academic background in the sciences provided her with a scientific approach to the skill of singing. Her subsequent MA in History from Queen Mary, University of London brought her to an awareness of the transformational power of celebration. She became convinced that spiritual virtues and beauty, as displayed though the Arts, can effectively promote social cohesion in our fractured world of social distancing, with or without Covid.

Saira herself is a ‘bridge’, bringing two different and complex worlds together though song. She is recognised for her captivating performances of operatic and raagdari song. She holds a formidable repertoire of some of the most well known and challenging songs from each tradition. Following highly successful runs as Final Judge (2013) and Chief Judge (2014) for the Reality show Voice of Sindh, in 2016, she held her debut solo concert in Pakistan. Once on stage, she demonstrated her talents by singing operatic and western art songs as well as Pakistani classical, ghazal, folk and film music. Similarly, in the West, she has performed and lectured on eastern genres, giving special attention to Pakistani sufi music and its themes of intercultural harmony, social equality and the spiritual practice of celebrating musical song in public worship. She has composed many songs herself.

A Christian, Saira recognised the significance of the works of the Sindhi ‘sufi saint of music’, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. His many poems celebrated the the Divine as revealed through Creation. This content resonated with Saira’s own belief that the intelligence and power of the Almighty could be perceived in the things He has made.  She began singing a selection of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s poems. This time, they were sung in English, set to modern western compositions. These were well received in her events at venues as far flung as American universities, London’s City Hall and at the Pakistan’s Presidential Palace in the presence of the President, First Lady and international dignitaries. Her unique professional profile continues to draw the attention of international Arts professionals, world leaders and print, electronic and social media.

From left to right: With President Arif Alvi, Presidential Palace, Islamabad; Acclaimed tenor, Joseph Calleja; Cricket Legend Hanif Mohammad; with President Musharraf; Six time World Squash Champion Jehangir Khan; Pakistani cricket legend ‘Bradman of Asia’ Zaheer Abbas; Rosemary Ashe, original cast lead of Phantom of the Opera; Soprano Louise Tucker; with Sir Dominick Chilcott, British Ambassador, Ankara, Turkey; Federal Minister Marvi Memon at NJArts Fest, London

In tandem with Saira’s focus on the spiritual song is her concern for vulnerable members of society. A founding member of the Sarah Foundation Pakistan, her first experience as part of a relief team was in response to  South Asia’s worst ever earthquake in 2005 in northern Pakistan. Since then, she has held charity concerts, spearheading support for relief work on behalf of flood victims (Sindh, 2007 and 2010), survivors of terrorist bombing (Peshawar, 2013) and casual labourers rendered jobless by COVID lockdowns (KPK, Punjab, Sindh, 2020). Ignoring any risk to her own safety, she frequently visits victims in person. Following the catastrophic 2022 flood, she delivered aid packages to families in rural Balochistan. This was in partnership with Art Aid, a project of Hunerkada, College of Visual and Performing Arts, Islamabad, Pakistan, founded by Jamal Shah, the current Minister of Culture.

In the UK, she is Director of NJ Arts London (Noor Jehan Centre), a space devoted the support of diverse artists in an influential multi-cultural city. The Centre was opened in 1988 by British megastar Sir Cliff Richard OBE, who remained Patron until 2017. At NJ Arts, she equips artists from diverse cultural backgrounds, encouraging them to aim for excellence and to collaborate in creating fusion music that promotes social cohesion, peace, mutual respect and awareness of humanitarian need.

More recently Saira has taken her biggest step toward connecting the two great traditions of opera and sufi music. She is currently working on the world’s first Sufi-OperaTM production, Marvi’s Tears, with Opera Director Jonny Danziger MA (Oxon) (Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro; Leonard Bernstein’s Candide; Puccini’s Tosca.), Composer Paul Knight (Macbeth; Christmas Carol; Treasure Island; Much Ado About Nothing.) and British-Pakistani Librettist Zafar Francis MA PGDip (London). The work is specially created for her in the role of the heroine, Marvi.

Marvi’s Tears is based on a story by Pakistani sufi poet, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai.  Marvi is one of Latif’s seven heroines, who through her bravery, saves her village, securing justice and peace throughout her nation. The story’s themes of harmony, women’s leadership and consequent social transformation deal with contemporary issues facing the modern world.

For the first time, Marvi’s Tears puts Latif’s story on stage in English, through an exciting new fusion of western opera and Pakistani classical music, for a global audience. The work, directed by Jonny Danziger MA (Oxon), will be performed in London from early 2024 and then prepared for international touring.