Maybe you’ve seen Mikel Saralegui (C '25) walking around campus with his signature curls, but did you know that his hairstyle is also the title of his album?
Mikel started singing in nursery school in New York City. In fifth grade, when many of his peers joined school choir, he decided to tag along. He didn’t think much of it and saw it as more of a social opportunity.
Following in the footsteps of his older brother—who also joined choir in fifth grade and continued through middle and high school—Mikel thought it was natural to keep going. After retiring from choir in tenth grade, Mikel switched to a capella.
Songwriting was never part of Mikel’s life until he had to do a project of his choice at the end of his senior year. "I wanted to do an album just because I played the guitar and had been dabbling in producing a bit, so I figured there's no better time than now to devote a good amount of time to this," he says. "It kind of just happened that I decided to take on the identity of a songwriter for a bit."
When creating songs for the project, Mikel started by making a beat using his guitar and piano and then wrote lyrics. He drew inspiration from his life and his personal relationships, whether it was girl problems or situations his friends were facing.
"There's a bit of embellishment when you want to make something work," he says. "I think one of the songs says something along the lines of, ‘What's the weather like in Minnesota out in the middle of May?’ I've never been to Minnesota. I don't know anyone from Minnesota. I wrote about it just because it sounded nice, but that's what makes it fun."
Mikel drew inspiration for the album name Curls from a self–proclaimed “corny analogy” that he came up with: "My curls just represent the twists and turns of life in all the different directions it can go."
For the album cover art, Mikel asked his mom to take a photo of the top of his head, capturing both his forehead and curls. "It took her a bunch of photos to get it right," he laughs. But after landing on the perfect frame, Mikel went into photoshop, wrote "Curls" in his handwriting in the white space above his head, and put a grain filter on the photo "to make it more indie."
The finished product, which features six original tracks, is now available on Spotify.
If Mikel had to describe himself as a genre of music, it would be R&B because he thinks it's a great way to express emotions and encompasses a wide variety of sounds and styles. He says his artist inspiration would have to be Steve Lacey. "I listened to his EP so much. He's the one that taught me that you do not need much to start because you can make the most out of the bare minimum," Mikel says. His guitar teacher Tony Catalonia is another one of the most vital inspirations in his music career.
At Penn, Mikel is considering studying environmental studies with a minor in economics or computer science. Though it’s been hard for him to strike a balance between working on his music and studying, he's been consistently playing the guitar since coming to campus. "My hallmates come and knock and say keep it up," he laughs. Last month, he had the opportunity to perform at Smokey Joe's, where his friends came to support him and his original music.
At the moment, Mikel isn't sure if there's a potential overlap between his passion for music and his academic studies. He wants to take music theory but reflects, "I'm just not at the point where I know that music is something I want to fully do yet, so I don't want it to take away from [other] class options here."
In the next four years, Mikel is looking forward to finding a true passion. As someone who's interested in many different fields, he wants to hone in on at least one, whether it be business, computer science, music, or the environment.
"I want to be dedicated to a cause," he says, "and that is something I am both nervous and excited to figure out."