For most college freshmen, moving to a new city and plugging into a new community can be intimidating. But Ani Seigel, a first-year student at the University of Michigan, has leveraged the transition as an opportunity to share her passion for music with the U-M community.
“When I first got here, I knew that I wanted to keep playing music because it’s my biggest passion,” Seigel said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “So I was immediately plotting how to break into the scene. First, I just started (by) trying to find open mics, and I did an open mic at The Ark and (another) at Vertex Coffee.”
Seigel, who performs as Ani Mari, is an 18-year-old from Houghton, Michigan and has been performing since she was 12 years old alongside her childhood best friend and violinist Kora Melia in their folk duo Ani & Kora.
“I’ve been friends with Kora since we were like four. Our families are really good friends, so I grew up with her. She’s basically my sister,” Seigel said. “From very young ages, we were both playing music. She was enrolled in violin lessons when she was three; I started piano when I was seven and then quickly joined choirs and picked up the ukulele and guitar. When we were really little, we started playing some music together. When we were five or six, we called ourselves The Squirrely Girls, our mascot was a squirrel. We wrote songs about (things) like tigers, and jungles … not serious things.”
It wasn’t until the duo took a trip to Blissfest, a folk festival in Petoskey, that Seigel and Melia’s families recognized their daughters’ talent as a duo.
“When Kora was 11 and I was 12, we were at this music festival that our families always go to every summer called BlissFest, which is here in downstate Michigan,” Seigel said. “I was on ukulele, and she was on the violin, we were just playing around. I decided to write a song about this forest that is at the festival. We have this joke in my family, we call the forest at BlissFest ‘the Forest of Dubious Decisions’ because it’s where all the people go to do drugs and party and where most of the young people are at the festival. So we decided to write a song called ‘Dubious Decisions’ about the forest, and we played it for our family, and our families were just like, ‘What the fuck? That was actually really good.’ (Later) they had us do an open mic, and we kind of took off from there.”
The duo has performed at several festivals and venues across the state and just released a new single, “F The Prom,” at the beginning of January. Seigel, who writes most of the music for Ani & Kora, says the song was inspired by her senior year prom and the uncertainty of moving downstate for college.
“I’d just committed to the U of M around the time that I wrote (‘F The Prom’),” Seigel said. “The title specifically is from ‘Last Prom’ because I come from an area that’s pretty conservative, and at the time of prom, we were all supposed to be wearing masks because no one was vaccinated yet. And when me and my friends went, no one was wearing masks and no one was enforcing it. We just left, which kind of sucks, so that’s kind of where that title stemmed from. But this song is mostly just about growing up and people asking me what I’m going to be and me not knowing because I’m 18.”
Now beginning her second semester at the University, Seigel has already booked her first gig in Ann Arbor at The Blind Pig, where she’ll take the stage with graduate student Kelly Hoppenjans on Jan. 27. While Seigel misses performing with Melia during the academic year, she is no stranger to solo performances. In 2019, Seigel performed at the Viljandi Folk Music Festival in Viljandi, Estonia and has done various solo sets at local Michigan music festivals.
“I would say this is probably my biggest solo gig that I’ve ever done without Kora, so I’m a little nervous, but mostly just really excited,” Seigel said. “I got a really good group of people together who are going to be playing some backup on a few of my songs, and Kelly Hoppenjans is going to be sharing the stage with me a few times and doing her own stuff as well. She’s an excellent musician. So yeah, I’m really excited.”
Seigel shared that while her set includes a few covers from some of her favorite artists, she plans to mostly showcase songs she’s written. Inspired by her hometown of Houghton, which is located on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula, Seigel’s music is rooted in Americana tradition and the places she calls home. Several songs come from Ani & Kora’s upcoming album Good Fighter, recorded with Erik Koskinen in the Twin Cities and set to release this year.
“My music very much reflects the Upper Peninsula,” Seigel said. “I’m a very nature-based person. I really like being outside, and the UP is really beautiful. I think it finds its way into my poetry and my lyrics a lot. There are quite a few songs on (the album) that talk about Lake Superior, Sturgeon River or Whitefish Bay, different places in the UP that really affected me and influenced me.”
As someone who has interacted with Seigel at various open mics around Ann Arbor, I can attest to her talent and grace both on and off the stage. When I first heard her perform at an open mic at The Ark, I was blown away by her performance of two original songs, and I was even more shocked to find out that she was only in her first year of college. A few weeks after her performance at The Ark, we encountered each other again at another local open mic; I was once again impressed by her songwriting and, more importantly, the way she approached me during the show to tell me she enjoyed my own performance. With only a few months of Ann Arbor living under her belt, Seigel is already making a name for herself in the music scene and cultivating an inclusive and supportive community while doing it.
As an Arts and Ideas in the Humanities major through the Residential College, Seigel hopes to graduate with a degree that will allow her to continue pursuing her love for music outside of performing.
“I’m very interested in music education, music festival management, maybe even music (or) corporate law, something like that,” Seigel said. “But I definitely want music to be in my life because it’s a big part of my life.”
In addition to her performance at the Blind Pig, Seigel will also be featured in a Cold Brew Session with the student-run Empty Mug Records, which is set to release in February. You can buy tickets to her Blind Pig show on January 27 here.
Daily Arts Writer Kaitlyn Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.