London-based Pakistani Sufi opera star Saira Peter has been preparing a very special gift to her nation. A new national song (milli naghma), ‘Aye Sar Zameen’ (O My Land), is to be released on August 14.
Saira Peter recorded her song earlier this summer, but the concept had been deepening in her spirit for years. As Saira relates, “I was woken from a deep sleep, late one night in 2010. The words ‘Aye Sar zameen, aye sar zameen’ were spinning through my head, inspiring a new song. Instinctively, I began thanking the Almighty for all the wonderful things I could call to mind about Pakistan. A melody emerged. I reached for my phone and recorded it there and then, for safekeeping.
“I guarded it in my heart, waiting for the right time to develop the song to perfection. It was clearly something very special, deserving of special attention.”
By late 2014, Saira had completed composing the lyrics and music but she invested several more years carefully crafting the song. Drawing on her extensive Western classical training, she gradually enhanced the melody, introduced harmony and built up the instrumentation. The song was beginning to glow and shine in its own right. To her mind, it had to reflect the vast array of beauty and complexity of her motherland.
Over the past few years, the various incarnations of Saira’s vocal recordings speak for themselves about how rigorously she has invested in this project. Working at London’s Soup Studios, she completed early versions of the track with the help of seasoned recording engineer Andy Rugg. Later, takes were engineered by Dan Blackett, but she called in lead engineer Giles Barrett for final mixing and mastering on Soup’s vintage 1980’s Soundtracs CM4400 console.
Against a backdrop of pulsing strings, relentless drums and sparkling piano, Saira’s unique voice paints a soundscape as varied as Pakistan itself. Like a glorious eagle, her coloratura-like inflections wing their way over a roaring ocean, a windswept desert, a verdant farmland. Her powerful voice roars into motion as she reaches the phrase ‘Shad baad rahey mera Pakistan’ (May my Pakistan always rejoice). But the song is not yet over. As the climax approaches, Saira’s voice, now a swirl of layers and octaves expressed through her expansive 52-note vocal range, takes flight. As she sustains and repeats the phrase Aye Sar Zameen at ever higher increments, she seems to soar above K2 itself. With its perfect balance of rhythm and harmony, Aye Sar Zameen is a jubilant musical proclamation sealed by a triumphant gong crash.
In terms of lyrical content, Aye Sar Zameen is first of all Saira’s heartfelt entreaty that God would remain forever in the land, bring Pakistan peace and prosperity, fill her inhabitants with joy. At the same time, the song proclaims a majestic announcement to everyone everywhere. Pakistan’s precious destiny as a “golden and silvery land” is to shine for the whole world to see.
The natural next step for this epic song is a music video. This week, work began on the production. Like the song, the video will feature the brand new ideas of a Pakistani girl who lives in London. As one prestigious English magazine rightfully declared, Saira is going “where no woman has gone before”.