Malian musician Ballake Sissoko says US customs broke his kora

Renowned artist says he discovered his custom-made 21-string instrument was broken after returning from New York.

TSA US customs
Sissoko's statement: 'Would they have dared do such a thing to a white musician playing a classical instrument?' [FIle: David McNew Getty Images/AFP]

Malian musician Ballake Sissoko, a renowned player of the kora, has accused US customs of breaking his 21-string instrument “without any justification”.

Sissoko’s team said in a statement on Tuesday that he discovered his “cherished, custom-made kora … completely destroyed” upon returning to Paris in an Air France flight from New York after the conclusion of a two-week tour around the United States with his group 3MA.

“He checked in his kora, in its hard case, with its state-of-the-art amplification system, specially designed by sound engineer Julian Cooper,” the statement read.

“At the airport, Ballake picked up his kora case, went back to his flat and slept. But when he woke up and opened the kora case, he was shocked and dismayed to find his kora in many pieces, with only a note from US customs – in Spanish, with the unfortunate motto: ‘Intelligent security saves time.'”

Images posted on his Facebook page showed the instrument, played across West Africa, lying in pieces. 

The statement said the strings, bridge and entire delicate and complex sound system of amplification had all been taken apart.

“Ballake is a highly acclaimed, distinguished performer who travels around the world with his kora for concerts at top venues,” the statement said.

“His reputation is impeccable as both artist and human being. He has no criminal record. He is just a brilliant musician, a pacifist, a kind and gentle person, a magnificent and creative performer who manages to give African tradition a contemporary voice with total integrity.”

“In Mali, the jihadists threaten to destroy musical instruments, cut the tongues out of singers, and silence Mali’s great musical heritage. And yet, ironically, it is the USA customs that have in their own way managed to do this,” it added.

“Would they have dared do such a thing to a white musician playing a classical instrument?”

Many people online took to social media to demand US customs apologise to Sissoko and express their support for him.

Source: Al Jazeera