Just as the holiday travel season winds down, claims that a U.S. Customs official at John F. Kennedy airport destroyed 13 handmade flutes have sparked outrage on the Internet this week.
Boujemaa Razgui, a Canadian flutist who performs with Boston Camerata and other ensembles, was flying from his native Morocco to Boston via JFK on Dec. 22 when officials reportedly opened his bags and determined that the flutes – 11 nays and two kawalas – were "agricultural products" and "had to be destroyed."
The flutist, who made all of the instruments himself using hard-to-find reeds, first told Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc blog on Tuesday that a Customs official at JFK mistook the traditional instruments for pieces of bamboo and ordered their destruction. He was said to be distraught. "I have such great memories with these nays through the past years, from culture to any moment that I remember."
Razgui did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Thursday.
But in an interview with NPR Music the musician sought to further clarify what happened. The instruments, it seems, were originally packed in a bag along with some clothes, personal items and canes of professional-grade bamboo for making new flutes. The bag never showed up on the carousel at JFK and he filed a missing luggage report. Hours later, it was delivered to his home in Stockton, MA by American Airlines along with a message that the "agricultural materials" in the bag had been seized and destroyed by Customs. The 13 flutes he had packed on top of the canes were missing altogether.
A Customs and Border Patrol spokesman said in a statement Razgui's luggage contained no instruments, only bamboo.
"CBP Agriculture Specialists at John F. Kennedy International Airport discovered fresh green bamboo canes approximately three to four feet long inside of unclaimed baggage arriving on a flight from Madrid, Spain on Sunday, December 22, 2013," the statement said.
"Fresh bamboo is prohibited from entering the United States to prevent the introduction of exotic plant pathogens. The fresh bamboo canes were seized and destroyed in accordance with established protocols to prevent the introduction of plant pathogens into the United States."
An American Airlines spokesman told NPR that the carrier had been unaware of this incident.
Razgui says he's not sure what happened now. "Maybe someone took the flutes," he told NPR. "I really don't know what's going on."
Below: Razgui plays with a traditional Arabic music ensemble in 2012: