A professional flutist says that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents smashed every one of his 11 instruments upon landing at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last week, saying they were made of agricultural material that is not allowed into the U.S.
The music blog Slipped Disc reported that Boujemaa Razgui – whom it described as a “flute virtuoso” – had built all of the instruments by hand.
Razgui, a Canadian citizen and native of Morocco who holds a U.S. Green Card, was returning home to New York from Morocco over the Christmas holiday when Customs agents opened his luggage for inspection.
“I told them I had these instruments for many years and flew with them in and out,” he told Slipped Disc on Tuesday. “There were 11 instruments in all. They told me they were agricultural products and they had to be destroyed. There was nothing I could do. The ney flute can be made with bamboo. Is that agricultural?”
“Bouzemaa was both upset and unwilling to risk a confrontation with the US authorities,” Slipped Disc reported, adding that the blog had sent the flutist’s contact information to major media outlets hoping for wider coverage of the story.
The director of a music ensemble who asked not to be named told the blog, “I can’t think of an uglier, stupider thing for the U.S. government to do than to deprive this man of the tools of his art and a big piece of his livelihood.”
Slipped Disc explained that Razgui travels with a variety of flutes all personally built by him in order to create sounds for different ethnic musical genres and time periods. The bamboo ney flute is often heard in Middle Eastern musical compositions.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protections website, bamboo is divided into different categories, some of which are permitted, others not. Customs writes, “In general, bamboo that is not thoroughly dried and is therefore still capable of propagation is prohibited entry into the United States. Bamboo that is thoroughly dried and split or cut lengthwise (rendering it incapable of propagation) will be inspected upon entry and released.”
“Unsplit dried bamboo canes/stakes/poles also are allowed entry into the United States after inspection,” Customs writes, adding that “Bamboo furniture, bamboo cloth, and other manufactured products made of bamboo do not require fumigation and will be released upon inspection.”
The flutist’s difficulty in traveling to the U.S. with the tools of his trade is reminiscent of challenges that have faced musicians who wish to travel with or import other instruments, including guitars and pianos, due to regulations over endangered wood and ivory forcing musicians to carry documentation over their instruments’ provenance or risk having them confiscated.
The controversy escalated when Gibson Guitars’ factories and offices in Memphis and Nashville were raided in 2009 and 2011 by agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service who seized wood pallets and guitars.
TheBlaze reached out to Customs and Border Protection to try to learn more about what happened at JFK Airport but did not receive an immediate response.