“I’m a baby whisperer now”: Anika Moa on her new children’s show Toi Time

The multi-talented māmā talks to Tara Ward about her new TV show and the joy of performing for tamariki.

Anika Moa has packed a lot into one lifetime. The award-winning musician has released seven albums, hosted two hit talk shows and facilitated a primetime news show. She even reunited True Bliss, for crying out loud. Now she’s taking on the world of children’s TV with Toi Time, an energetic new show which debuted on New Zealand screens earlier this month.

Mum-of-four Moa was inspired to create a New Zealand version of The Wiggles after the birth of her daughter Marigold. “I used to hate The Wiggles, but when I had my fourth child, she watched The Wiggles and was obsessed with it, and then I became obsessed with it,” Moa tells me over the phone. “I was like, I want to write better songs than them, or you know, have healthy competition with them.” On guard, Captain Feathersword.

Toi Time aims to educate preschoolers through play, movement and music, and does so in a way unique to New Zealand. The show’s three presenters Māia (Awhimai Fraser), Tama (Eroll Anderson) and Jojo (Taylor Rogers) frequently speak te reo Māori, the songs include child-friendly covers of well-known New Zealand hits, and there are a cheeky guy named Buzz (Reuben Butler) who wears a Red Band bucket hat and rubber boots. It’s Aotearoa wrapped in vibrant, kid-friendly packaging, delivered to tamariki in a wonderfully relatable way.

The Toi Time team (Screen capture: TVNZ)

At a time when youth television is dominated by foreign programming, Moa knew it was crucial for Toi Time to champion te reo Māori and local content. “The most important thing is to speak Maori so that people understand it and children grow up feeling proud of their heritage,” she says. “The second most important thing is singing and dancing. You can learn a lot through waiata, and it gets kids moving, their devices away and thinking.

Moa appears in every episode as Aunt Anika, a stern but kind figure who teaches children important skills like brushing their teeth or healthy eating through the magic of song. “Aunt Anika was like, ‘OK, how can I do this with my busy schedule and still be on the show and not be the lead so I don’t have to film for four months?'” joked. Moa, but we could all do with a little more Aunty Anika in our lives.

It’s time for Auntie Anika (Screen capture: TVNZ)

While the main presenters of Toi Time are relentlessly optimistic, Aunty Anika happily subverts their wholesome efforts by singing about the smell of poop and stinky armpits, while wearing a unique brown jumpsuit (“Looks like I escaped from prison “, believes Moa). After years of performing her multi-award winning albums Songs for Bubbas Volumes 1-3 in whānau across the country, Moa knows that the best way to engage with younger audiences is to embrace your playful side. Songs about poo help too.

“If it has anything to do with pooping or peeing, you’ve already won,” she says. “If you meet a kid and you just say hi Poos, they’ll love you forever. They’ll just adore you because kids only think about poo and pee emojis and Minecraft.

Don’t panic, Toi Time keeps the poo content to a minimum – each half-hour episode is jam-packed with songs, rhymes and moves, and Moa performs a mix of Song for Bubbas classics and new material. It’s a show tamariki will want to watch on repeat, but it won’t drive parents crazy to hear it over and over again. “A lot of parents are creeping into my DMs, saying ‘thank you for making music that doesn’t make me want to bang my head against the wall,'” Moa says, adding that this intergenerational call was not intentional.

“I’ve written music to soothe myself, and I’m also a parent, so I know how to soothe my kids through music,” she says. “I guess it just got to baby whisperer status. I’m a whisperer baby now.

Auntie Anika, baby whisperer (Screen capture: TVNZ)

Toi Time will bring Moa’s music to a new audience of tiny people, and after performing in front of adults and children, Moa knows which audience she prefers. “Kids are a lot more fun because kids are like drunk adults,” she says. “They actually have no inhibitions, so they sing and dance and have fun, that’s what I do. When you do an adult concert, everyone folds their arms or talks or ignores you or is too cool.

Our new whisperer baby is using her powers for good. Moa loves how her music encourages tamariki to be positive and happy, and Toi Time is a show full of energy and joy. Moa and Toi Time might just be a match made in children’s television heaven.

You Time airs weekday mornings at 6.30am and 8.30am on TVNZ 2 and streams on TVNZ+.