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Anika Moa on reclaiming her culture, embracing emotions and her health overhaul

January 1, 1970

Strong, single and six months sober, Anika Moa speaks to Siena Yates about embracing her emotions, reclaiming her culture and how she learned to stop putting herself last.

If anyone is ready to harness the transformative energy of Matariki, it’s Anika Moa. Over this past year, the music, TV and radio star has been on a massive journey of change, learning and self-care.

“So many people are on big life changes at the moment, eh?” says the mum of four, pointing out she’s far from the only one finally learning to take care of herself. “I think it’s a lot to do with Covid. People just realised that life’s not all about money.”

In Anika’s case, self-care isn’t about massages, candlelit baths and breathing exercises – although those things are all nice. For the musician, 41, it’s about doing the mahi on the inside and making changes to her lifestyle to improve her health and wellbeing. That’s involved the usual things like healthier eating and exercising – she’s an avid runner, marathoner and has started a small online running movement called #LezRun – but it’s also extended to quitting drinking, undergoing therapy and reclaiming her culture and language.

And during all of this, Anika has found herself navigating the end of a marriage. It’s something she’s unwilling to speak on in detail, except to say she and her former partner Natasha Utting, who are parents to Soren, six, and Marigold, two, are now separated, “but we’re co-parenting really well”.

With so much going on, it’s little surprise that Anika still cries every day which, she promises, is actually a good thing.

“Every night before I go to sleep, I bawl my eyes out and I don’t know why. I think I’m just shedding a lot of layers, feeling love, sadness, grief, joy, shame, guilt and so many emotions to do with my kids, my marriage, where my future lies,” says Anika, as raw and candid as ever. “So every day is overwhelming for me, and it’s f***ing exhausting, but I’m so happy to go through this and I’m here for it.”

That’s especially true now that Matariki is upon us – a period of reflection, letting go and, ideally, moving forward unburdened.

“For me, it’s just letting go of the pain, I think. There’s still grief, but I think you can have grief and also have joy in the same space, so that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to let go of that pain and also grieve. I’m grieving a whole life that I had, but now I’m starting to build a life that I want because I’m doing what I want to do,” she says. “Looking into the future, all I can see is utter joy and happiness and it’s because I’m not having to compromise me, and I’m being my true, authentic self. And you know, some days I’m not being authentic; some days, I’m f***ing phoning it in because I have to pay the mortgage. But mostly I’m being my true self.”

Looking into the future, all I can see is utter joy and happiness

That’s important now more than ever, because while she shares custody of Soren and Marigold with Natasha, and nine-year-old twins Barry and Taane with her first wife Angela Fyfe (aka Azaria Universe), Anika is now on her own and determined to be the best version of herself for her kids, for as long as she can.

“I’m really enjoying being a solo mother. And I enjoy showing my kids a different life, you know? They don’t see me drinking now, they see me eating yummy food and exercising. I’m trying to be a good role model for my kids and also just because I want to be alive in 10 years,” she says.

Anika got a major wake-up call in that respect when she was pregnant with Marigold and developed gestational diabetes, which not only didn’t go away, but rather morphed into type 2 diabetes.

“Usually if you have gestational diabetes, you just have that and then you go back to being pre-diabetic or whatever. But I’m full-blown diabetic and, actually, I think I have been most of my life. I think my dad was diabetic and he died at 51; my whole family on my Māori side is diabetic.”

Since her pregnancy, Anika has been watching what she eats and keeps her blood sugar levels well-balanced. She’s also upped the exercise, not just to stay physically healthy, but mentally, too.

“I’m good now, I’m pretty healthy,” she says. “I’m obsessed with my running. It’s really good – and I’ve been advocating this for a long time – for mental wellbeing, not because I feel depressed or anything that bad, but when you’re a mum, you don’t set aside time for yourself.

“You forget who you are and then you start drinking too much and eating too much, just basically
treating yourself like s*** because you come last. But I’m finally working my way up the ladder to not coming last, you know? I’ll actually feed myself good food because I’ll take time to source it and cook it and actually eat it. So my health is a bit hard sometimes, but I’m feeling really balanced and good.”

At the time of writing, Anika is about 170 days sober – a major achievement for someone who says drinking was her “biggest vice”.

“I was a really heavy drinker and it was like, when you’re sad, drink. When you’re happy, drink. When you’re whatever, you just drink. Now that I don’t drink, I feel… lighter,” she says, thinking carefully to find the right word and landing on it with a satisfied nod.

“I’m still waiting not to feel tired. I feel so tired all the time and it’s probably years and years of abusing my body. My body’s being like, ‘OK, it’s not going to happen overnight, you’ve got to really work at this, it’s not going to be like a year thing, it’s going to be a forever thing’. So yeah, I’m still waiting for that ‘aha’ moment. Maybe it doesn’t come, but I hope it does.”

The other major journey she’s undertaking is one of reclamation, by strengthening her connection to te ao Māori and te reo Māori. Her sense of disconnect is one that comes up quite quickly, hand in hand with the topic of Matariki – something she never celebrated growing up simply because, like many of us, she didn’t know anything about it.

“My granddad spoke te reo Māori and he got whipped and abused if he spoke it, so when it came to my dad, he was like, ‘Speak English, boy’. I was brought up in a Pākehā world with my English mum and my dad who knew nothing of te reo Māori. My granddad died at 66, my dad died at 51. I have hardly any ties to my whanaunga back up north [Anika is Ngāpuhi and Te Aupōuri], so that’s where we’re starting,” she says.

That said, she’s trying to reconnect however she can and she’s “learning more and more by the day”.

“I’m not Stacey-qualified,” she laughs, referencing her close friend Stacey Morrison’s wealth of expertise, “but I love the idea of having a Māori New Year, and I love that it changes because I’m a Gemini and I change too.”

I love the idea of having a Māori New Year, and I love that it changes, because I change too

PHOTO BY TAANIKO AND VIENNA NORDSTROM AT SOLDIERS RD PORTRAITS

For Anika, celebrating Matariki takes a couple of forms. One is playing gigs like the upcoming Tuawāhine music festival, in which she’ll play alongside “our Canadian spiritual queen” Tami Neilson, “our queen bee” Annie Crummer and a selection of other female artists with an all-female band ensemble to boot. “It’ll be all mana wāhine, so there’s not a single sausage onstage – thank f***!” she laughs. “I mean, I’m not a man-hater or anything, but you know, it’s all about the stars aligning.” Past that, it’s just doing “whatever I can to celebrate te ao Māori and being Māori – whatever that means”.

A big part of that for Anika is getting comfortable with the reo. She has most of the basics and, as fans will know, has been writing in the reo for years, but it’s never felt easy or natural and that’s what she wants now.

“I reckon I’ve always felt more Māori than English, even when I didn’t know Māori was a thing, growing up in Christchurch. I always felt like I was a part of something that was missing. So I’ve reclaimed it slowly over the years and my way of doing that is through my art. But now I have to get real and make sure when I’m walking down the street with my kids and I kōrero Māori to them, that we’re all understanding each other and it’s just natural. I need that for us. I want my kids to be really proud of where they come from.

“I want to go to work with Stacey and be able to kōrero Māori with her, because at the moment I’m just like a deer in the headlights. I don’t want to avoid Scotty [Morrison] when he walks toward me at [the kids’] school, you know?”

Anika and Stacey have been friends for years and Stacey has helped her with many of the translations for her reo songs, but now, working together every day on The Hits has shown Anika where she wants to be.

“Stacey’s my idol. I love her. She probably thinks I’m a wildling and I am, I’m really wild, but she grounds me. She’s someone to look up to and someone to aspire to be like. My goal for the next five years is to learn to Stacey’s ability, because she puts us all to shame – not in a ‘You should be shamed’ sort of way, but more like, ‘Oh, I want to be as good as her’. She’s a role model.

“So, I’ll do the reo and attend more Māori things like Matariki, Matatini, noho marae, wānanga,” Anika says. “I’ve been too busy having a career and having children and all that, but you know, this is all part of the self-care and not coming last anymore.”

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