In 2018, Juliette Motamed, the musician known as AZADI.mp3, was polishing off the video for her first music release WHO IS AZADI.mp3? when a notification popped up on her phone. “I got a DM on Instagram, basically being like, ‘Hey, can you send a self-tape for this role?’ and me just being like, ‘Sure. Why not?’” AZADI says laughing. The role was for a Channel 4 Comedy Blaps short Lady Parts, written and directed by Nida Manzoor, about a band of Muslim punks trying to make it as musicians amid the banal stressors and pressures of everyday life. “I went in all loose-limbed and joking around and stuff, and was genuinely shocked [to get the role].”
I met AZADI six years ago, at a dark-lit Dalston gig where she was headbanging onstage after being pulled from the crowd by the band, so it makes perfect sense to me that the production team would also seek her out. With hair down her back like a lion’s mane and a magnetic Leo attitude to match, she practically implores to play the role of a bold-as-brass punk. But the journey to get there wasn’t always smooth and shiny.
“I’ve been making music for the past five years and really thought that the acting thing’s not possible,” she admits, explaining the pressure throughout education to choose one creative outlet or the other; music or acting, but never both. “How can you tell me what I can and can’t do if I haven’t even tried myself?” She waves her arms pointedly. We’re collapsed on armchairs in an underground Deptford studio, after a cold evening dining al-fresco because the world is still partially locked down. We’ve had many evenings like this, discussing our wildest dreams – me, some kind of writer, her, some kind of rockstar – except this time the dreams are reality.
In the three years since the Lady Parts Comedy Blap was released, and with a pandemic looming over everyone’s heads causing uncertainty across the television industry, AZADI threw herself into music, working with NTS radio’s WIP artist development programme and releasing her debut EP Summer In The Crypt. It’s a glitchy and genre-bending exercise in emo-pop yearning, produced and performed by AZADI, with ambitious accompanying visuals in which she plays a lovelorn vampire. Meanwhile, Manzoor was developing her own musical vision for a full comedy series behind the scenes.
The result is the new Channel 4 show We Are Lady Parts, a quick-witted modern comedy that shows British Muslim lives under a darkly comic and titillatingly fresh spotlight. AZADI reprises her role as Ayesha, the sharp-tongued drummer who she describes as “the prickliest character of the bunch”, who won’t take nonsense from anyone, especially not the customers she picks up in her Uber. Then there is Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey) the leader of the Lady Parts band, a rebellious and focused frontman committed to living off-grid. Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse) is the manager, a niqab-wearing straight-talker who tries to steer the group’s success in between her shifts selling lingerie, and Bisma (Faith Omole), the bassist, makes feminist graphic novels while raising her delightfully precocious daughter. Finally, there is Amina (Anjana Vasan), the studious and stage-shy guitarist who stumbles upon this misfit troupe as she hopelessly hunts for a husband, changing the band’s trajectory by joining as their lead guitarist.
“It is such a punk show and, music aside, there are universal themes of trying to find a sense of belonging, a celebration of sisterhood,” AZADI explains. “These are all themes and genres that punk is really closely tied to, as well as being counter-cultural and against the grain.’’
“There are universal themes of trying to find a sense of belonging, a celebration of sisterhood”
It is a rarity for British television. A woman-led comedy with ethnically diverse actors playing British Muslim characters in myriad ways. The cast is a dynamic collection of talent, exchanging one-liners both on and off-screen. They are present as I begin my second interview with AZADI as part of the We Are Lady Parts press tour, gushing into the Zoom camera about how proud they are of her and how great our interview will be, delighting in shouting over each other before disappearing in a quick flurry of laughs. It’s a small snapshot of the feel-good vibes on set.
“Imagine, I went in every day to the set and it was like everyone was a black or brown woman of colour,” AZADI says. “And that’s behind the cameras, in front of the cameras, the crew, the costume, the producers. It was just such a love story to new and rising talent.”
Alongside vigorous music lessons week in, week out, to make sure they passed as a real band (“I went from making bleep bloop sounds on my computer to having this whole real-life drum kit straight in front of me. Like, I can smash on those drums!” AZADI laughs), she credits Manzoor for creating such easy chemistry between them. “She is such a conscientious, thoughtful and really detail-focused writer. The character of Ayesha was super crystallised in her head, so it was a matter of her letting me into that and into the inner workings, and being there when I ever had a question.”
The result of Manzoor’s script is a careful exercise in counterculture that is acutely cognisant of how its novelty alone could draw a headline. “We were all very aware that this was something that’s never been written about before in terms of British media. There’s not really that many shows that do focus on majority Muslim characters,” AZADI acknowledges. “If anything, I really hope that this show opens the doors to different kinds of shows and different kinds of narratives on different aspects of the community.”
We Are Lady Parts explores this paradox directly: the idea of being hyper-visible and yet underrepresented simultaneously. It does this particularly through the character of frontwoman Saira, whose persistence that the band would be “selling out” if they were to have an online presence is one of the plot arcs. It is up to Momtaz, the manager and mediator, to convince her that online is where their fans are; where they can reach versions of their younger selves who might be seeking mirrors from the media they consume. It’s a deftly woven and extremely meta storyline that asks whether it’s possible to be countercultural and also successful; to be subversive and yet still engaged with social media or other tools of conventional culture that might not be ready for the nuances and multiplicities of marginalised identities. “What’s nice about the show is that it straddles the middle line and asks the question ‘is this countercultural?’ but at the same time gives an answer that by exposing yourself to the mainstream, you can also find a community,” AZADI says. “It’s the gorgeous interplay between those things.”
“Sometimes the most countercultural and punk thing that you can do is to just fucking believe in yourself, no matter the genre of weirdo you are”
The outcome is an assembled team reminiscent of old school shows like Powerpuff Girls; a band of bizarre yet harmonised weirdos who collectively are impossible not to adore. There’s satisfying synchronicity between her on-screen character straddling the line in order to be a mirror and AZADI’s novel approach to her own creative pursuits. With We Are Lady Parts debuting to critical acclaim and a new music project of her own set to come out this summer, it’s evident that AZADI’s adamance on carving her own lane is working.
“Sometimes the most countercultural and punk thing that you can do is to just fucking believe in yourself, no matter the genre of weirdo you are, or the embarrassing nerd that you are, or the cheeky bastard that you are – whatever it is,” she says. “Being strong in yourself and to also have a community of people around you to celebrate that, I think that’s fucking punk man. That’s punk to me.”
We Are Lady Parts is available to stream as a boxset on All 4. AZADI.mp3’s next single and music video Nazar will be out this summer.