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Mali musician claims U.S. customs “completely destroyed” his instrument

Ballaké Sissoko says his kora, a traditional West African instrument, was dismantled “without any justification.”

February 06, 2020
Mali musician claims U.S. customs “completely destroyed” his instrument Stephen Chernin/Getty Images  

Ballaké Sissoko is a Malian musician and master of the kora, an instrument common in West Africa. In a Facebook post shared Wednesday, Sissoko claimed his "tailor-made" instrument was "completely destroyed" by US customs "without any justification."

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According to his statement, Sissoko was flying back to Paris from New York after completing a North American tour with his group 3MA. Soon after his arrival, he opened the instrument's hard case and discovered the kora in several pieces. His statement implies that the unique instrument is beyond repair: "Even if all the components that have been dissembled were intact, it takes weeks before a kora of this calibre can return to its previous state of resonance."

The post includes photographs of the kora in pieces and a U.S. Customs tag, but no explanation for the instrument's apparent destruction. Sissoko's statement slammed a perceived racial bias in the actions of U.S. customs:

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In Mali, the jihadists threaten to destroy musical instruments, cut the tongues out of singers, and to silence Mali’s great musical heritage. And yet, ironically, it is the USA Customs that have in their own way managed to do this. Would they have dared do such a thing to a white musician playing a classical instrument? What does this tell us about the attitude of the administration towards African musicians? This is an unprovoked and sad act of aggression, a reflection of the kind of cultural ignorance and racism that is taking over in so many parts of the world and that endangers the best of musicians from Africa and elsewhere.

Read the full statement below.

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In a statement to The FADER, a representative for the T.S.A. denied responsibility for the kora's damage: "It is most unfortunate that Mr. Sissoko’s instrument was damaged in transport, however, after a thorough review of the claim, it was determined that TSA did not open the instrument case because it did not trigger an alarm when it was screened for possible explosives."

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Mali musician claims U.S. customs “completely destroyed” his instrument