Like other people born in the mid-to-late 1970s, Melky, Sedeck and Wyclef Jean spent a lot of time watching the Muppets. They might just owe their musical success to Dr. Teeth, Floyd, Animal and their other puppet friends.
"I remember vividly, I must have been 2 years old, but I still remember, our parents buying us a Muppets instrumental play set," Melky, the younger sister of Fugees rapper Wyclef Jean, said Wednesday from her home in South Orange, N.J.
"Sedeck would be on drums, Clef would be on guitar, my other brother Sam would be on some other instrument. I would have the mic in my hand. We'd be banging around, making a lot of noises around the house. Eventually, our parents ended up buying us real instruments."
The Dr. Teeth-inspired cacophony paid off for the Jean family, as Wyclef became part of the critically acclaimed hip-hop trio the Fugees, and Melky and Sedeck have now formed Melky Sedeck. The duo released their first album, Sister and Brother, in June.
Sedeck, 24, plays all the instruments and acts as producer, while Melky, 22, serves as lyricist and singer on the collection of soul-laced pop tunes based on hip-hop drumbeats. The album, according to Sedeck, was designed as a star vehicle for Melky.
A classically trained opera singer who shares her brothers' big, brown eyes, Melky flexes her vocal muscles on "Mi Amor," "In Time" (RealAudio excerpt) and other songs. Her voice is on top of the sound mix throughout.
"My job is really just to showcase Melky's voice," said Sedeck, who looks like a dread-less version of his older brother. "I've always promoted my sister. Now, I'm getting paid for it."
Two of the most striking tracks on Sister and Brother are "Lady" (RealAudio excerpt) and a cover of Lulu's 1967 hit "To Sir, With Love"
(RealAudio excerpt). Melky said she agreed to do the latter song, after constant prodding from friends, only after realizing it was not about romantic love. "To Sir, With Love" was the theme of the Sidney Poitier film of the same name about the relationship between a teacher and his students. Melky explained that in her version, she is addressing Sedeck.
"Lady," she said, is a statement against disrespectful women.
"This woman was telling me, she was the maid of honor at her best friend's wedding," Melky explained (RealAudio excerpt of interview). "She ... started to sleep with the girl's husband. Things happen, yes, but she said to me, 'So and so is too busy working. And if she was a real woman, her man would not leave her.' "
The experience prompted the opening words of "Lady": "A man will be a man and that I know/ But there is a difference between a woman and a ho." A wah-wah guitar riff crawls in the background as Melky launches into her diatribe.
Melky played at Woodstock '99 two weeks ago during Wyclef Jean's solo set. Sticking to what Sedeck said is group tradition, Melky owned the front half of the stage while he played piano in the background and a DJ hovered behind them.
"Melky is the voice; Sedeck is the music," said Sedeck, who counts '80s-pop bands Men at Work and Duran Duran as two of his influences.
The two have worked together all their lives, having spent 15 years as part of the traveling gospel band of their Nazarene preacher father, along with Wyclef and Sam. But they said they never set out to be a duo that part happened by accident.
The siblings attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., for a short time. After dropping out, they found themselves hanging around their uncle's recording studio in Newark, N.J., their hometown. Sedeck spent his days engineering and producing local hip-hop artists, while Melky answered phones and generally helped out.
One day in 1996, Melky began singing some words she had written over a piece of music Sedeck was running through the soundboard, and a collaboration was born.
"A lot of people always say, 'How is it possible that you can work with your brother,' " Melky said (RealAudio excerpt of interview). "That's the first thing people always ask. And I think growing up and working so close with him all my life, it just makes it the most natural thing for me. Like, for me, not working with Sedeck would be weird."