What do singing unicorns, elephants on the moon, persistent pirate-biting fleas, stealth bunnies and an operatic hippopotamus have in common? They are all topics explored by some of this year’s finalists for the NZ Children’s Music Awards Ngā Manu Tīrairaka – an annual presentation celebrating music written for kids.

The 2023 finalists are our storytellers, rhymers and singers, writing and recording songs that ignite a love for music in New Zealand children. These songs tell ‘our’ stories – Christmas in Aotearoa (no snow!), Tuatara in our Gumboots and embrace te reo Māori to educate and engage. They introduce values and share positive messages, like the power of finding your voice, seeing things from others perspectives, and engaging with others even if we don’t agree with them. These writers and creators are wildly imaginative, talented, experienced, creative, refreshing and absolutely blooming with exceptional waiata that is being acknowledged across Aotearoa and the world.

We are very pleased to announce the finalists for the 2023 NZ Children’s Music Awards Ngā Manu Tīrairaka. Drum roll please….

Recorded Music New Zealand Te Kaipuoro Waiata Tamariki Toa | Best Children’s Music Artist finalists:
Claudia Robin Gunn
Itty Bitty Beats
Levity Beet

APRA Best Children’s Song | Te Korokoro Tūī finalists:
Nicolla Morehouse for A Tuatara In My Gumboot performed by Miss Nicky Says
Lavina Williams and Mark Casey for Aotearoa Sun performed by Jaya
Charles and Emily Looker for Kia Mau, performed by Aro

NZ On Air Best Children’s Music video | Te Huia Kaimanawa finalists:
fleaBITE for ‘A Pirate meets a Flea’ video by Ross Payne
The Nukes for ‘Elephants are on the Moon’ video by Dave Thomson of Imaginary Friends
Jeremy Redmore for ‘Sing Like A Unicorn’ video by Adam Rowland of Awkward Animations

As curator of the Children’s Music Awards and a NZ children’s music writer, author, and broadcaster herself, Suzy Cato is very proud of the children’s music community of Aotearoa.  “Each year I exclaim about how the ‘bar has been raised’, again. This year is no different! A record number of entries, in all categories within NGĀ MANU TĪRAIRAKA – The Children’s Music Awards 2023, and a wealth of songs, across a plethora of genres and age groups. There is something for everyone within this year’s incredible lineup of entrants and I am so very proud of how our children’s music industry continues to grow and diversify to capture the imagination; the minds, hearts and boogie bottoms of tamariki across Aotearoa.”

Presented by Recorded Music NZ, APRA AMCOS NZ, and NZ On Air, the Awards have the support of Kiwi Kids Music, the national association of children’s songwriters, creators and producers.  Formed by some of the most passionate creators of music for kiwi kids, the association supports NZ children’s music creators and seeks to advance the potential of all our children to live healthy fulfilling lives.

Winners will be announced at an invite-only ceremony on Sunday 7 May at Tuning Fork, Spark Arena. The show will be hosted by Suzy Cato with awards presented by tamariki from across Aotearoa. There will be live performances, video screenings, and to follow the awards, interactive music-making workshops, afternoon tea, and plenty of fun and games.

A teensy weensy bit about our finalists:

Aro consists of husband and wife Charles (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Te Ata, Ngāti Mutunga) and Emily Looker. Blending Emily’s honey-voiced jazz with Charles’ full throated percussive sound with shades of haka, Aro’s storytelling performance adds up to a warmth of experience, wholly original, anchored in Aotearoa New Zealand, that leave all who are present with the feeling of having been let in on a special secret. The pair share a passion for the power of language and music to tell stories and remind us of our cultural identity. The duo were finalists for the Maioha Award at the Silver Scrolls (2019) and the APRA Best Children’s Song Award for their song Korimako (2020) and finalists for Best Māori Group at the Waiata Māori Music Awards (2022).

Claudia Robin Gunn is known for her sweet, smart songs for cool, kind kids that engage their curiosity, their emotions and their zest for life. She traded nightclubs for nightlights when she first began writing lullabies, having started a successful music career writing and singing with electro pop band Substax before jumping into motherhood. With the encouragement of APRA awards for her first forays into children’s music, she has delighted in opportunities to record with talented producers like Bruce and Andy Lynch, Tom Fox, Levity Beet, Michael McGlynn (With Bennytime), Andrew and Victoria Knopp and Dean Jones. Claudia is eternally inspired by the communities and families she meets and loves to promote conservation and mental wellbeing messages through her music. True to her purpose, Sing for the Earth – Little Wild Animals delivers on these themes, encouraging kids awareness and action on climate and biodiversity goals through snappy, uplifting and intelligent storytelling.

fleaBITE aka Robin Nathan is the writer/producer of fleaBITE, producing bold and innovative material for older children. fleaBITE has released five albums; won three New Zealand Music Awards for Best Children’s Album (2021 SNAKES ALIVE; 2015 THE JUNGLE IS JUMPING; 2013 CIRCUS OF FLEAS); was voted Children’s Video of the Year (2015 DON’T SIT UNDER THE POO TREE) and has been a finalist for best song and best video numerous times. In a former life, Robin has been a writer/producer for music, radio, TV, film and theatre. She worked as a producer for Radio NZ (winning Best Comedy Series for Don’t Touch That Dial’); performed and toured every cranny of NZ with When The Cat’s Been Spayed (with Jackie Clarke and Charlotte Yates); was the musical director for theatre show ‘Crow Station’ and wrote stories for School Journals. More recently Robin has written and produced entertaining and inventive radio series’ for children. In 2021 she was a finalist in the NZ Radio awards for EVERYBODY WANTS TO JOIN THE FLEABITE BAND (13 episodes) and has just finished 3 FLEAS IN A SUBMARINE (eight episodes), currently playing on Radio NZ. In 2022 flea BITE also produced a long awaited children’s book of DON’T SIT UNDER THE POO TREE, and worked with Levity Beet on a 10 song collaborative project called beetBITE

Itty Bitty Beats based in Christchurch make fun, original music for kids across the world.  Jenny Payne and Lucy Hiku are no stranger to the NZ Children’s Music Awards, with this being their 9th nomination. Imaginarium is their 4th studio album, a genre diverse collection of songs that have burst from the depths of their wild imaginations! It’s been a challenging few years, due to the pandemic and health issues, but Jenny & Lucy have found creative new ways of continuing their musical journey and have many exciting things to celebrate, including reaching a milestone of over 12 million streams on Spotify! Itty Bitty Beats have just released their 5th studio album Bath Time 2 and have been busy collaborating and recording with Clauidia Robin Gunn on their upcoming Sunshine & Kindness EP,  a collection of uplifting songs about friendship, kindness and finding your rainbow even when it’s raining.

Jeremy Redmore has been woven into the fabric of New Zealand music for more than a decade, originally as singer and songwriter of Midnight Youth and then as a solo artist. The past two years have seen Redmore broaden his creative exploits, particularly within the world of children’s entertainment. Sing Like A Unicorn, originally a sell-out picture book all about the superpowers to be found within singing, spawned a song and music video which brought the book to life via stop-motion animation by video creator Adam Rowland of Awkward Animations. Jeremy’s journey so far has encompassed four full-length albums, two Aotearoa Music Award gongs, an APRA Silver Scroll Award, 10 top-40 New Zealand radio hits, over 20 million online streams and shows from China and Singapore to London, Berlin and Los Angeles.

Lavina Williams and Mark Casey wrote Aotearoa Sun vocals featuring 12 year-old Jaya.  Lavina was a founding member of pioneering, internationally successful late 1990s South Auckland girl group Ma-V-Elle. Since then, she has enjoyed a stellar 20-year career in musical theatre around the world while Mark is an international award-winning television producer, who occasionally dabbles in songwriting.  Aotearoa Sun, written specifically for Jaya, made its debut live on stage at 2022 Coca-Cola Christmas In The Park in Auckland’s Domain. Jaya is unquestionably a young Maori and Pasifika artist of enormous potential with multiple achievements including at age 11 winning the Teenage category of Maori Television’s ‘5 Minutes Of Fame’.

Levity Beet is no stranger to these awards having won the 2018 Tūi Best Children’s Music Artists and APRA Children’s Song of the Year award three times. Levity Beet is a musical instrument inventor, music producer and performer based in Mohua who finds much of his inspiration to create from being underwater and exploring coastal New Zealand with a mask and snorkel. For Levity, humour and empathy are integral parts of the natural world. Levity feels lucky to have discovered music as a powerful way of contributing to this part of the ecosystem.  ‘Dino Bunny Digger Let’s Go!’ is a diverse, warm, funny and heartfelt collection of music inspired by unexpected aspects of nature and a view of being human through the most curious lens.  Fine featured dinosaur, a single feature on the ‘Dino Bunny Digger Let’s Go!’ collection is couple with a beautiful animated music video made by Dave Butler

Miss Nicky Says is an award winning children’s artist with a Youtube channel celebrating over 1 million views, a channel promoting positive cultural identity and te Reo Māori to children 0-7 yrs. ‘Miss Nicky Says’ first aired on Youtube in 2001 and has captured the hearts of children, Parents and Educators with its colourful songs, educational content, graphics and use of Māori language. Born in Aotearoa, Nicolla Hemi Morehouse now resides in Australia and in 2023 won the title of ‘Top Australian Kids Artist of the Year’. A Tuatara in my Gumboot was a finalist for Best Children’s Song at this year’s International Songwriting Competition while Nicky’s debut album ‘I Love Matariki’ will be released this autumn.

The Nukes are Aotearoa’s original ukulele trio and have been making music together for 14 years (and counting!) With four albums of original tunes, screeds of streams and plentiful views (not to mention the odd award) The Nukes hold a firmly established place in New Zealand’s musical landscape.  The original line-up, formed in 2008, of Dave ‘Fingers of fire’ Parker, Ben ’Country boy’ Collier and Dave ‘Snapper’ Thiele traipsed their way around Australasia bringing joy, harmony and hilarity to all they encountered. They have performed all over the country at WOMAD, the Auckland Folk Festival, Splore and countless other festivals and concerts. This decade long adventure came to an end with the retirement of Snapper in 2018. Now comes a version of the band with more of a family-folk flavour. Dave’s youngest, Josh, has joined the ranks and is bringing a crystal clean high harmony and multi-instrumental skills. This revitalised combination brings exciting new musical possibilities as well as the enhancement of the original nukes classics, with the harmony and humour that have always made The Nukes crowd favourites.