Jessica Noxolo's solo debut, "The Meal Plan" EP, may feature a song titled "The Appetizer," but the Jackson neo-soul artist, who performs as SIKA, says she sees the recording project itself as a teaser of things to come.
The three-song EP, which Noxolo officially released on Sept. 14, is an introduction and perhaps reintroduction for fans who might remember her as the keyboard player for all-female R&B and soul act Calico Panache.
The group formed in Jackson in 2009 while its members attended Tougaloo College and continued on after their graduation in 2011, with some musicians, including Noxolo, relocating to Atlanta for more opportunities.
The move helped open doors for the band, including a feature on the popular BET show "106 & Park" and a performance slot in the annual "Southern Showcase of the South." However, it also meant that some of the women had to travel across the country from states such as California, Maine and Illinois.
"It was one of those things where we formed in college, and everybody was stationary here, and then, eventually, once everyone hit that graduation point, a lot of people had to move back home," Noxolo says. "Like, our lead singer was from L.A. She can't just drive down the street. If it was like that, we would have been able to keep everything going."
She began developing "The Meal Plan" while working to find her voice as a solo artist after Calico Panache disbanded in 2013, but she put the project on hold when she decided to move back to Jackson in 2015 to be closer to family.
The Clarksdale, Miss., native says her music stayed on the shelf for almost a year as she resettled in the capital city. Then, she took the stage for her first solo performance during Jackson Indie Music Week's "Many Moons" showcase in 2016. It was a turning point, Noxolo says, as she finally felt comfortable with her status as a solo act.
That paved the way for more shows and a return to the material she had begun recording for "The Meal Plan" in Atlanta. Unfortunately, Noxolo realized that she simply didn't like the songs. Initially, she says it was discouraging to toss out the work she had put in.
"I was like, 'Man, two years have passed. I'm kind of starting over.' I literally ended up not using any of the songs I made while I was living in Atlanta," she says. "But ... I'm glad that life put up its roadblocks because I wasn't ready as an artist. I was still getting used to my voice as a solo artist in the first place."
That question of identity became one of the themes of "The Meal Plan," which features Jackson artists such as Coke Bumaye, Vitamin Cea, Yung Jewelz and Dolla Black, who engineered, mixed and mastered the project. The EP also features beats from producers DJ Lake Gang, Cory Page and Fred Nice.
Rather than providing guest vocals, though, Noxolo asked her musical peers to leave her voice messages to appear as skits on the EP, giving their answers to the question, "Who is SIKA?"
Her choice to include the messages, which double the project's runtime, was not without careful deliberation. She says that wife Ashley Noxolo caught her off guard the first time she asked why the call-ins were on "The Meal Plan."
"I think when you're first coming out, just introducing yourself, yeah, people have an open ear, but they're not really listening," she says. "It's like, 'Let's get to the music. Let's see what you're really about.' So as far as just really trying to explain to people who you are, what you are, what you like, I think that having other voices kind of sculpt that thought in your head, it gives you a plethora of different ideas.
"So when you meet me, you'll probably be more open-minded than if it was just my perspective given to you."
SIKA's "The Meal Plan" EP is available now on iTunes, Bandcamp, Spotify and most digital retailers. For more information, find SIKA on Facebook and Instagram.