Even when they aren’t playing their raucous on-screen personas, the cast of We Are Lady Parts look like a band. Over the course of our interview, the four girls – who are nestled together on a sofa in their native London – laugh a lot, mess about and finish each other’s sentences too.
“We support each other,” says Faith Omole, who plays bassist Bisma in the show. “It’s like a song; all of our instruments sound better when we’re together.”
Set in London, the ground-breaking Channel 4 comedy was created by Nida Manzoor. It follows all-Muslim feminist punk band Lady Parts, made up of Omole’s Bisma, enigmatic frontwoman Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey), taxi-driving drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed) and wheeler-dealer manager Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse). After a bit of searching, they find their missing piece in shy guitarist Amina (Anjana Vasan). While on a desperate quest to find a husband but also blend in with her peers, Amina struggles to balance her two worlds.
Manzoor had two main reasons for creating the show. Firstly, she was frustrated with the lack of diversity on UK telly. “I was seeing a lot of Muslim women in the mainstream media shown as oppressed or victims,” she tells NME. “I wanted to write something that reflected who I am, the people I know and the women I love.”
It also stemmed from a love of music that she’s had since childhood. Growing up with musical siblings and listening to everything from Paul Simon to pop punk (she was especially jealous of her sister’s Green Day t-shirt growing up), Manzoor was adamant that her eclectic tastes would be reflected in the show. “I loved System of a Down, they were my teen obsession because they were Armenian American,” she says. “They had this Middle Eastern sound to their music which was really broad and playful.”
Manzoor is also obsessed with band dynamics, which lie at the heart of her favourite films This Is Spinal Tap and Almost Famous. With this in mind, picking the right cast for her all-girl Muslim outfit was crucial. “One of the hardest things was finding actors who could be believably punk,” she says. We Are Lady Parts had already existed as a comedy short put out by Channel 4 in 2018 starring Vasan, Shorthouse and Motamed. After a “vigorous and intense” casting process, Omole and Impey joined the fold. “They learned the instruments, and they put so much time in that they actually became a band in rehearsals.”
Some of the cast were already musically trained. Vasan, an acoustic singer-songwriter who cites Dolly Parton and country artist Townes Van Zandt as her inspirations, instantly struck a chord with her character: “It felt surreal to play [someone] who shares the same Spotify playlist as me.” Impey had sung in soul indie band A Blossom Fell for six years. Self-labelled emo Motamed is a singer and producer, though had never sat behind a drum kit until rehearsals. “It was such a gorgeous little cathartic moment to actually play,” she remembers. “It was really cool to live out my punk band fantasy.”
Only Omole was new to the instrumental scene. “It was the middle of the pandemic when I found out that I had the role,” she remembers. “I was just doing puzzles and eating all day. On the day I found out, I finished my last puzzle. It was like, ‘Baby, you’ve got to learn some stuff now.’”
Raised on a strict diet of Whitney Houston, the actor threw herself into practicing the bass and mastered the instrument in just two weeks. “After my first lesson I left a voice note for my friend trying not to have a panic attack,” she says, while the other girls cackle in the background. “But I’m not going tell myself that I can’t do something, I’m [had to] tell myself that I could do it.”
To get into character, the cast immersed themselves in punk. Impey studied strong female lead singers and band players, and watched music videos by London rockers Skinny Girl Diet to pick up their naturally chaotic air. Motamed would send the girls music to listen to on set. “I had to channel some real rage, so I would sit in my trailer and listen to these playlists,” says Impey.
The songs performed in the show – a string or guttural punk anthems with titles like ‘Basheer With The Good Beard’ – were written by Manzoor and her siblings over the course of a few weeks. “My sister or I would have an idea or funny lyric and we would start spitballing,” she says. “I play the guitar, my sister plays bass, and my brother plays everything, and we’d just lay down these rough demos.”
For a lot of the cast, We Are Lady Parts is their first serialised small-screen venture. “My parents are over the bloody moon,” says Motamed. “The family WhatsApp is on fire. Like, I’m sure they’ll be the ones to create the memes of my face.” The experience of making the show even motivated Vasan and Motamed to get back to their own music, with both releasing new material over the summer. “I’ve wanted to put together an album for a long time,” says Vasan. “Then when I got to do the show, I realised, ‘Why am I waiting? I should just do it.’”
Beyond the memes and the music, the girls are most devoted to the show’s mission, which is to show a group of Muslim women playing guitar and having fun. “This is a story that hasn’t been told before. It’s a show that celebrates joy,” says Motamed. “Hopefully, it can open the door for totally different stories.” Over a group of vigorously nodding heads, Omole adds: “We need to understand each other, and we can only do that if we see each other. This show makes Black and Brown women visible, and that’s what’s so exciting about it.”
‘We Are Lady Parts’ debuts on Channel 4 at 10pm tonight (May 20), with the full series available on All 4