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Tonji, the Music Ambassador, New iPad App for Kids

Burke mom Karina Garcia Neff introduces her musical app for kids.

Burke mother and entrepreneur Karina Garcia Neff, a native of Peru, has created an iPad application for kids.

“I wanted to teach my children to embrace who they are and become connected to their heritage,” Neff wrote on her website, Mommy Americana.

The result is Tonji, the Music Ambassador, an app for Apple's iPad, developed in conjunction with Neff's multilingual music album of the same name. Both aim to present culture and language through nursery rhymes.

The app is available at the iTunes Store for $2.99.  It currently features three songs, but will eventually include "the vast majority" of the album's 25 songs in nine languages, according to the website. Users will be notified by updates in the app store when additional songs are available.

Through colorful graphics and simple melodies, the Tonji, the Music Ambassador app presents Frere Jacques (Europe), Maua Mazuri (Africa) and Pulgarcito (South America).

Open the app and a map of the continents appears with Tonji, a wide-eyed and tossel-haired toddler, in the center. He invites you to “Tap me to play.” The music starts and he begins to sway and sing the simple lyrics in a clear voice. A scroll opens and the words to the song appear. Each word reverses color as Tonji sings it. As the song progresses, Tonji moves his arms, closes his eyes and generally enacts the song with his moves.

Once you’ve listened to Tonji all the way through the song, you can sing and be recorded. Tap the arrow in the upper right for options. Tap on Tonji with a microphone. Recording mode begins where the scroll highlights the words just as it did when Tonji was singing. Unfortunately, you don’t have any music to help you. It’s just the words and watching Tonji, as he again moves to enact the song’s story.

After you’ve recorded yourself singing, it’s back to the arrow in the upper right corner of the screen. Tap on Tonji wearing earphones. You’ll hear yourself singing. It’s just your voice and no music, but Tonji is gamely enacting the song’s movements on screen.

Supporting the intent of teaching children geography and culture, songs are chosen by tapping on a map of the continents. Each screen in the app includes a map image in the left corner, which takes you back to the main screen, where you can select another song by tapping on a continent.

The graphics and colors are appealing and in accord with the target audience of children. An airplane flies by in Pulgarcito, while a monk rings a church bell in Frere Jacques and Tonji stands tall between the Sphinx and a pyramid in Maua Mazuri. There are also flowers swaying to the music in Maua Mazuri but, with no knowledge of the nursery rhyme, I have no idea why.

It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that Tonji offers cultural lessons. Would the majority of Europeans say that Frere Jacques is the representative nursery rhyme of their continent?  

The app provides a nice incorporation of iPad (tablet) technology with children’s songs and movement. Though there are few options, it took me a bit to understand what to do next. When I played back my singing, it was rather out of sync with Tonji, due to the lack of a music soundtrack.

While more songs are promised, it was still a disappointment to pay $2.99 and receive only three songs.

Overall, this app makes a nice addition to other children’s song and music apps you might have. Congratulations to Karina Garcia Neff—MommyAmericana LLC—for creating it.

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