We Are Lady Parts offers viewers something they’ve never really seen portrayed on television before – an all-female and Muslim punk band. Created and inspired by Nida Manzoor’s own experiences, this fresh comedy series, which premiered on Channel 4 in the U.K., Peacock in the U.S., and Showcase in Canada, centres on a band’s effort to find a lead guitarist and land their first proper gig.
The TV Watercooler had the opportunity to speak with cast member Sarah Kameela Impey, who portrays Saira, We Are Lady Parts’ fierce and enigmatic frontwoman. Sarah chats with us about developing trust between co-stars when you’re not just acting, but performing musically together, which punk artists she ended up listening to, as well as diversity vs. representation.
Nida Mazoor, the show’s creator and director, has a music background and the show is said to be autobiographical. Are there elements of Nida within all your characters or do you think her presence is stronger in one character over the other?
No, she’s definitely present in all! She’s definitely an amalgamation of the characters. All of the characters are also based upon people that she’s known. There are definitely some elements of her friends and siblings in these characters. She’s definitely also drawn from everyone that she’s ever met, I think, and then also drawn us in with these particular parts.
I think it’s quite funny that even though these are our individual parts, we’re probably inside the other characters as well. We have a joke that I play Saira, but me as a person, I’m definitely Bisma!
How much time did you have to rehearse, musically, before production?
We were about to start filming when COVID hit. So, this was March 2020, and we had a little bit of practice then, but then with the pause, I got to sit with my guitar for a good couple of months before we started filming in August.
Faith Omole, who plays Bisma, came on a couple of weeks before we started filming in August, so she had about two weeks to pick up the base, which was insane! She did it incredibly. Every second of the day, you could see her just sitting and trying to work out the base.
We then had a lot of practice as a band. We had gone through all those highs, lows, mistakes, and then the triumphs. We found ourselves in rehearsal going, “Oh! We are Lady Parts.”
I read that you’re a vegan…Was it harder learning how to play the music or being a butcher?
Yeah, totally! I mean it was equally as hard…probably. Definitely the scenes at the butcher’s were the hardest one. Actually, one person has pulled me up and said, “Do you know anything about butchering?” I replied, “Frankly, no. I don’t!” To be fair, I’m using a cleaver in that scene, which I’ve now been told is not the knife you use! A cleaver is for bones, apparently!
Obviously learning how to play guitar is hard, but we were so lucky because Shez Manzoor, Nida’s brother, taught us individually how to play our instruments. There were so many hours spent with Shez. He’s the most patient person to ever exist! He’s so laid back and he’d let you play but then he’d tweak a few things so that you are able to feel confident about it. That’s what matters isn’t it?
That’s great. Seems like there was a great sense of family with that production. Especially with lockdown, you were in your own bubble.
Exactly! And just to be filming during COVID anyway, felt so special. I felt so lucky. There were no complaints from anyone who had to wear masks. We also sometimes wore goggles if we sang. With all those people involved, there was not one complaint. We all supported each other, and we were able to have a breather if we needed a breather.
Luckily, within the band, we just happen to really love each other! So, that was really lucky. We went through all the band practices together, so by the time we filmed, we knew each other as friends.
Do you think that a deeper sense of trust between your co-stars developed because of the added musical pressure?
Yes, definitely! And because it’s punk music, so you have to all the volition to be a bit out there and let go. We are all singers in our own rite, so we love harmonies and love things to sound nice, but you kind of have to drop that and concentrate on what you are saying and the fact that you’re getting out there and putting that feeling behind the words. It’s so different.
Once we shouted the songs together and sweated, then yeah, there’s so much trust. You know how far someone has to go. Especially in the series, there’s loads of highs and lows, there’s things where we really put ourselves out there and come to loggerheads together. You have to have lots of patience and trust with that and not have to worry that the other person is going to take it personally.
Punk music might not be everyone’s style. How familiar were you with the genre before this?
No, not at all! My dad had a really eclectic taste. I actually grew up listening to a lot of panpipe music. A bit odd! [Laughs] When I went to sixth form [the education system in England], people were so surprised that I didn’t know the names of any bands! I’ve worked on that!
What did you end up listening to? Did you end up making a playlist?
Actually, Juliette Motamed (who plays the drummer, Ayesha) made me a sick playlist with load of different artists on it: The Tuts, Skinny Girl Diet, lots of Patti Smith and darker rock bands to kind of get me into a kind of zone. I’m definitely the biggest fan now! I’m obsessed.
We Are Lady Parts definitely breaks down barriers of what is usually represented. Was there any fear of backlash from the more conservative members of the community? There’s a line about how music is haram within the first few minutes of the first episode. I was really impressed that the show was going there. One song even references honour killing. It’s sort of putting these truths out there and not shying away from anything.
I wouldn’t say that there was a fear, I’d say there was an awareness that many people will feel different ways about it. We definitely hoped that once people had watched it, then they’d understand. It’s Nida’s own experience that she’s writing from. She’s not writing from the experience of all Muslim people, let alone Muslim women, or women of colour. It’s literally her life experience and these are real people that she knows.
We knew that that [fear]might happen and that it still might happen. But when it came out in the U.K., there has not been any once [of that fear]. There’s been so much love and support. There were viewers reaching out and saying, “I wish this had happened when I was a teenager!” Or “I really resonate with this. I really feel seen. I really feel heard.” We were like, there’s something so different on TV. There’s so many beautifully complicated characters in this.”
While it can happen, we just hope that people enjoy it and feel that love and joy that’s been written into it by Nida.
I wanted to touch upon diversity vs. representation. Not to discredit some other shows that showcase diversity in front and behind the camera, but a lot of them seem to be a bit dumbed down for the audience. It’s more of a product that’s created by a person colour for a white audience. What I love about We Are Lady Parts is that it doesn’t shy away from going deeper into relatable themes and experiences of characters from different communities where they aren’t afraid that maybe not everyone will get that joke or comment. It’s expected that the viewer can do their own research if they don’t understand something. Often there’s a fear here where this could alienate traditional viewers – especially with American audiences. It’s a fresh approach that makes We Are Lady Parts much more relatable.
Yes – completely. Because it’s an open window into someone’s experience, you just get transported into a world that you might not have seen before or been in. You’re right, it’s wonderful that people can hear something and be like “Oh, what is that about?” They could ask a friend if they don’t know. There were even things that were mentioned in songs that maybe we wanted to learn more about. It was nice to do all that research and show that these people really respect that culture, because they are from it and there’s that firsthand view.
Production-wise, Channel 4 might have a lot more creative control than most American productions. Did you have to be mindful of any notes from the American streamer, Peacock?
No – I think it’s because Nida is so strong with her vision that it was just the right people to come together to represent her and her project the right way. If there was [any notes or interference], we didn’t feel them or see them. It’s all been so positive! Just like a wave of support!
What was the last TV show that you binge watched?
Oh wow, Line of Duty! I was really late to the game with Line of Duty. We binged it in a really weird way. We did Series four, half of six, maybe a bit of three, and then finished six. I don’t know what happens in the first two? Maybe I should? It got me!
You are also a trained dancer and had the opportunity to perform at the closing ceremonies at the Olympics in 2012. Did you get to meet the Spice Girls?
Yes! Yes, because when we were doing the rehearsal, we all have these earpieces where you can hear everyone. We were rehearsing in this massive tent and we heard Mel B saying “Good luck.” Literally, the crowd ran outside and there were the Spice Girls on their taxis practicing! I lost my mind. I also high-fived Brian May that day!
That was a big day!
We Are Lady Parts airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on Showcase in Canada. Viewers can also catch up on demand, through STACKTV and the Global TV app.