It’s a classic Hollywood trick: A gorgeous actress belts out a tune, or seems to — but the singing voice you hear belongs to someone else. (Think Audrey Hepburn in ”My Fair Lady” or Cameron Diaz in ”The Mask.”) This time, the lip syncher is ”Love & Basketball” star Sanaa Lathan in HBO’s ”Disappearing Acts” (premiering Saturday at 9 p.m.), a romance based on Terry McMillan’s bestselling novel. Lathan plays Zora, a music teacher and aspiring vocalist who falls in love with an unemployed construction worker (Wesley Snipes, who appeared in another McMillan adaptation, ”Waiting to Exhale”).
To deliver Zora’s soulful songs — and create them, too — director Gina Prince-Bythewood and producer Kimiko Fox enlisted a duo called Melky Sedeck. If the voice and style sound familiar, they should: Singer Melky Jean, 21, and composer/ multiinstrumentalist Sedeck Jean, 23, are the younger siblings of Fugees founder Wyclef Jean and have contributed songs to ”Love Jones” (their breakout single ”I’ve Got a Love”) and ”The Hurricane” (”Still I Rise”).
Because the novel’s protagonist lives in a Brooklyn brownstone, Melky Sedeck’s previously unreleased ballad ”Brooklyn” seemed a smart choice to pitch to the filmmakers. ”It’s about a woman from Brooklyn who falls in love with a man and gets pregnant,” says Melky, who was born in the borough.”The song was about the baby, but I knew I could change the words to make it more applicable to the movie’s love story.” A few lyrical tweaks later and the reworked single was being lip synched by aspiring singer Zora in a recording studio scene. Zora also mouths another Melky Sedeck composition, ”Sucker,” in an earlier audition scene.
Besides their love of singing and their shared Brooklyn roots, Melky says she’s got something else in common with Zora: persistence. Despite her older brother’s fame and Grammy awards, Melky has had to struggle to get her music heard. ”I could definitely relate to [Zora’s] feeling of ‘Am I good enough?’ and questioning myself as an artist,” she says. ”At first people would say, ‘If she’s so good, why isn’t she with the Fugees?’ Well I wasn’t a Fugee because when [Wyclef] formed the group I was basically a kid.”
But now she’s all grown up. Last year, Melky Sedeck released their debut album, ”Sister and Brother” (MCA), which sold a disappointing 20,000 copies (”the commercial thing didn’t happen,” says Melky), but the duo nonetheless impressed listeners on the Lilith Fair tour. ”I had support from fans and critics who’d see me perform and call me one of the ‘up and coming divas in new soul music.’ That meant more than radio and video play,” she says. ”I got to know some of the women who’ve had to work very hard for their success. Sarah McLachlan told me, ‘Don’t change for anyone — eventually people will catch on and want to hear your music.’ And that’s what I’m doing.”
These days Melky and Sedeck Jean are at work on a second album, ”Kitty Kat World” (due next spring), which will explore themes that dovetail nicely with McMillan’s writing. ”People think life’s about the dogs — the men,” says Melky. ”But it’s not a dog eat dog world. We know it’s really about the kitty cats — the ladies. [This album’s] for the ladies, but the fellas are gonna love it too.” Woof.