A school for the grooming of musical talent in Sufi/spiritual music is to be set up soon at the shrine of Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai at Bhitshah, Sindh. This will be in addition to another such school which is already there in Karachi.
This announcement was made by the first-ever Sufi opera singer, London-based Pakistani Saira Peter, while addressing a press conference at a local hotel on Tuesday evening. Saira is going to be the Chair of Music of the proposed new school. She said that she would be launching Sufi opera soon in London with the staging of the Sindhi legend, Marvi.
She said Pakistanis were a very broadminded lot and, as such, opera had a bright future in Pakistan. “I consider music service. Music is the platform whereby we can spread the message of love and peace globally,” she said.
Her versatility could be gauged from the fact that she rendered the UK national anthem, “God save the Queen”, in her mellifluously floating soprano and then sang the Sindhi devotional song, “Too habib, too tabib”, and later a Punjabi patriotic song, “Eh puttar hattan te naheen wikde”, a number originally rendered by the late nightingale of the subcontinent, Madam Noor Jehan, during the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict. The song was meant to mark the celebration of Defence Day two days hence.
Later, she rendered Amanat Ali Khan’s “Aye watan piyare watan”. Her husband, Stephen Smith, accompanied her when she rendered the UK national anthem on the portable keyboard, but, surprisingly, he was equally at home with and adept at the harmonium and accompanied her on the instrument when she rendered the Punjabi and Urdu numbers. Her versatility seemed to be unmatched.
Saira spoke of many things that most in our set-up don’t know. For one she explained why people rise when the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah is being sung or played, and told the meet that it was because King George III of Britain was so awe-inspired by the piece that he rose when the choir began to render the chorus. The British custom being that you never sit while the monarch is standing, the whole audience rose, and hence the tradition up until today.
Saira was commissioned by the Pakistan High Commission in London to sing at the unveiling of the bust of the Quaid at the British museum. She was selected out of three celebrity singers.
Dr Ben Richards, Social Impact Director of the Noor Jehan Arts Academy in London, read out the English version of Saira’s transcript. Mark Rakestraw, deputy head of the UK Deputy High Commission in Karachi, lauded Saira’s achievement and praised her for helping cultivate the atmosphere of closeness between the UK and Pakistan.
Syed Waqar Hussain Shah, custodian of the Shah Latif shrine, said: “We can’t counter a philosophy with guns. The answer lies in Sufism. Shah Latif belongs to the whole world, the whole mankind, not just Sindh.”
He said that a free medical camp was being run at the shrine with the active cooperation of the Christian community. Samra Arsalan, former hostess of a PTV morning show, compered the function.