It's weird being the first generation born into a reality that, to our grandparents, was totally unfathomable and, to our parents, was a gradual and yet drastic shift. Family elders tell of times when the term Reparations was only uttered through incredulous laughter and yet now here were are, a generation of young Black folks who know nothing else.
A sense of fear and awe, shock and zeal, reverberates through the generations and very much defines ours. We want to scream at the top of our lungs, but we also just want to ask questions. I think this is what the album is about, this hesitance to accept or label anything as progress because of similarities between the past and present, while differences between the past and present mean something, inevitably, is changing. How is one to feel about all of this?
We incorporate the Hatnaha comic and its conlang into the album because imagined worlds, and this glorious imagined African island nation of Hatnaha, relieve our generation of the stress and philosophical back-and-forth of such contemplation. Our imagination, in many ways, got us here. Our imagination will keep us going.
When I arrive at Hatnaha I don’t realize that Bat’s nearest airport resides 39 kilometers southwest of the city, nor am I aware that the roads that connect the metropolis to the airport, as well as the airport itself, will be mostly empty. The wheels of my suitcase squeak on the linoleum as I stride past quiet terminals. The airport boasts no particular or distinct architectural features or character, save the signs in Hatnahans that lack translation into any other language, and the Hatnaha flags. The colors do strike me with a distinct force now that I’m here, the even, horizontal split: humming skin-brown on top and clapping purple-blue on the bottom. Three screaming green-yellow circles float across its center, like a belt where the halves meet. Otherwise, I could be at an airport anywhere. Airport staff wear clapping purple-blue, thigh-length capes of a lightweight, waterproof material that billows as they walk. Beneath the capes: screaming green-yellow jumpsuits, form-fitting and cut sharp like a western suit, and collarless and enclosed with some type of invisible fastening. The staff chat among themselves, turned inward toward each other, and turn outward when I ask, in my best Hatnahans, xape Bat-hitsu xāk ka ?
The ride to the city is quite literally a straight shot, down a two-way road that slices through a verdant and flat expanse of agriculture. I feel as if I’m riding through a sketch exemplifying perspective. Massive, whisper grey cumulus clouds dominate a loud purple-blue sky, like space ships preparing to land on the horizon. Amongst the rows of produce, I occasionally spot a cylindrical, two-story structure in the distance, big round windows scattered sparsely and randomly about. These structures appear about every half mile or so at the ends of long, long, long straight roads that sprout from the main road I travel. While I notice their shape and orange-red range that pops against the blue-green landscape, distance makes scale difficult to discern. The produce surrounding them varies in size, with colors primarily on the blue-green and green-yellow scales. Bulbous singing purple-blue melons about the size of basketballs and planted in ornate, interweaving patterns stand out. “Ever tried one?” the shuttle car driver asks in Hatnahans as they watch me examine a patch. I tell them I haven’t, and when I ask what they’re called, I hear “gānunhaks.”
The city appears as a gradually enlarging dot—bigger, bigger—till the landscape shifts. The driver jams the brakes as we plunge into a thicket of careening bikes, cars, cabs, and buses. I am no longer on an isolated road, but bottle-necked on a main avenue amongst horns and imperatives. Judging from the lack of signage, drivers seem to intuit the appropriate speed which, at this moment, feels quite reckless. My driver swerves, brakes, and honks. They roll down the windows, pull a ganunhaks-colored, cigarette-shaped object from the glove box, and flick a tiny switch at its end. When we slam to a halt, they put it to their lips and pull, and then rest their arm on the windowsill. A wind blows in, cool and swift. They look at me through the rearview, “hasans pukukse xāk ka ?” they ask. “hasa,” I reply, and they pass me the object before traffic opens up and the car bolts onward.
Z. B. Neale and Kamal Diop Jefferson III are The Wrong Voice is Coming Out of You or nunats nen-tuk nutaks dipa (NNND), a duo turning conundrums and contemplations into melodies and rhythms.