Alya Al-Sultani is a dramatic soprano, composer of opera and producer based in London, UK. Her first musical experiences were Iraqi folk songs sung by her great grandmother and radio broadcasts of classical Arabic music. After leaving Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, her family settled in Tottenham, North London where she began to discover the incredible new sounds of the 80s, hiphop, jazz and music from the Caribbean.
Apart from working on her own projects, Alya enjoys debuting new music for contemporary composers and experimenting with opera, including the integration of improvisation techniques, microtonal ideas and Middle Eastern influences. Jazz is a constant thread through all of the music she makes – method, aesthetic, structure, rebellion, politics.
In December 2019, she completed the first phase of R&D of a new opera exploring the self-discovery of a Muslim gay man at a perfume counter in Broadway shopping centre in Bradford, commissioned by Freedom Studios.
In 2020, during lockdown, Alya wrote and began R&D on a new full-length opera, Two Sisters, with Arabic libretto. The opera explores the human feelings and decisions around human migration and home, the bond between women and human resilience. She will be developing this opera further over 2020 – 2021.
Recent projects have included debuting music for experimental composer Joseph Namy, recording for composer Clemens Christian Poetzsch in Berlin and performing at the London Bel Canto Festival. She has sung in masterclasses in 2018 – 2019 with Aprile Millo, Bruce Ford and Kenneth Querns Langley.
Alya recently worked at Britten Pears on new compositional and performance methods in working with people living with aphasia and continues to work on development non-hierarchical methods of music making.
She has performed at the Bahrain International Music Festival, Manchester Jazz Festival, Jazz in the Round and in multiple music venues across the UK and Europe with her trio SAWA and solo projects.
Her work with her trio SAWA was featured as part of the BBC Radio 3 session at the Wellcome Trust and she has performed for BBC radio 3 in live sessions. She was also featured on BBC’s Middle East Beats and Al-Arabiya television.
Alya’s other life-long passion is electronic music and is producer and co-owner at South London Space Agency, a new grime label she runs with GRANDMIXXER. She is currently experimenting on integrating electronic sounds and grime energy in her opera composition. She and GRANDMIXXER recently debuted their duo project.
Photo by Monika Jakubowska