‘My smashed instruments brought peace and joy’

‘My smashed instruments brought peace and joy’


norman lebrecht

January 01, 2014

The flute virtuoso Boujemaa Razgui, whose instruments were seized and destroyed by US Customs at JFK Airport, has been in touch with us again to thank Slipped Disc for its support. His English is not fluent or precise – it may, perhaps, have perplexed Customs agents – but there is no mistaking Boujemaa’s sincerity or his pain when writing about his hand-crafted neys (or nays).

Here’s what he writes, sharing with us a unique picture of the precious, lovingly crafted neys:

boujemaa neys

photo (c) Razgui/LebrechtMusic&Arts. all rights reserved.

I have  such great memories with these nays through the past years, from culture to any moment that I remember.

Of course l will not hurt any body  with nays. They were my huge art connection with North America and Europe, through churches, synagogues (all of them in Montreal and almost all in Toronto), universities, colleges, theaters, com.centers , mosques, all kind of ceremonies , marriages, helulas , barMetzvahs, you name it.

Crossing the US in my travels, l got to educate myself, meet other people and exchange ideas.

Boujemaa adds some specifics of the case:

What was in the case? they called Bamboo case

1)     11 nays (flutes) made by me some of them in Canada some in US

2)      material to make new nays in the case

3)      flight  AA 0095    Madrid to JFK

4)      time : 12/22/2013   (notice : on 12/23/2013)

5)      Reason :   nays from plants which is agricultural items (so l can’t play nay)


  • This begs some questions. Not least of these is whether US Customs is seeking – or indeed might seek – to claim that the very manufacture of these instruments in US and/or Canada breached the law in the use of prohibited materials; the length of time that it appears that they have been played in various countries without any apparent challenge or interference by any country’s Customs officials might appear to suggest that any such claim could be on somewhat dodgy ground. Another importnt question is whether these instruments are unique in their use of the materials from which they have been made – in other words, might it not be that other instruments made of the same or similar materials are in circulation but have so far yet to attract the wrath of Customs officials?

    • Jerry says:

      Utter Imbeciles at Customs. Yes, this problem exists for example with Gibson Guitars. Google Gibson +Customs for information. 🙁

    • RM says:

      “2) material to make new nays in the case”

      Seeing as Customs gave the reason as their being “fresh bamboo” in his case, I’m guessing it was this new material and it’s proximity to his old stuff.

      • Maybe – but one question raised by that question is whether the “raw” bamboo was sourced from within US in the first place, in which case it would have had to be taken out of US before it could be brought back; another is whether US Customs rules allow officials to determine that, or whether, such material might be deemed to risk contaminating musical instruments that are carried in close proximity to it, whether or not they are made from similar materials.

  • Alberto Martinez says:

    What are they doing at the customs? . I know Neys or Nays , and they are made of plants but a lot of instruments are made of plants as far as I know . It´s part of the process building instruments in many cultures .

    • Allen RIPPE says:

      How about every symphony orchestral performer of: clarinet, oboe, bassoon, piccolo: the agricultural goods these professionals use, come in to the USA branded, and un branded as:

      1. Vandoren, Rico & at least five brands of single reed companies, who grow Arundo Donax in: southern. France Spain & Argentina:

      2. The sopranino, soprano & bass clarinets, oboes & English Horns, have, since 1692, been produced from kiln-dried box wood, until the 1800’s, then were made of Grenadill, until now, but soon, there will be a world-wide ban on Grenidilla, as this African wood is almost disappearing. The replacement clarinet wood, is now, rose-wood, the traditional wood of bassoons.

      3. Double reeded instruments, use non-branded, non-manufactured Arundo Donax cane, all straight from sun-drying in the pesticide-free field, so that they can be OK, in musicias’ mouths, oh, and hospitable to non-US bugs, (although I know of no such passenger, ever)

      4. I just completed an ensemble of wicker furniture, having chosen from four agricultural canes, allowed freely into our land: Bamboo, Arundo-Donax, Ratan, Hemp.

      5. “Dear Customs, I work on crafting these flutes, whilst away performing, . . .of bamboo grown in my US colleague’s back-yard.” “With my permissio, please X-Ray the crap out of my US-grown-cane & cane-flutes.” “Keep the X-Rays coming until no microbe or larger-celled creature could enter the US alive.”

      6. “Dear Customs, the flutes are made neither of bone or ivory, while my famous Native-American flautist-colleagues leave & re-enter the US, WITH, their domestically grown flutes.”

      Submitted by : Professor of Saxophon, Memphis, TN

    • JCAC says:

      If it was the case, you shouldn’t be allowed to wear clothes or bring your luggage, since they’re made of animals, plants or foreign minerals. It’s just dumb that these kind of events are happening so often lately. The sad part is it scares the sht out of people and we don’t want to travel with our instruments anymore.

  • Heather K. says:

    US Customs are a joke….If that is their reasoning how in the he’ll was my mother allowed to bring a didgeridoo from Australia through customs and then deny this man his flutes.

  • If Bojemia needs reeds he may get 5 free of charge from me on http://www.shakuhachi-shop.de

    Please inform him.

  • R. James Tobin says:

    This musician s a great-minded man. The action of the customs official was not only outrageous but preposterous. To be consistent he would have to destroy all clothing, nearly all furniture, historic tapestries and goodness knows what else. What did he think–that flutes carry disease just because they are made from wood? Even if this stupid person had doubts–and he has so little sound judgment should be fired–at most he would have been justified in temporarily impounding the objects in question, until a sensible person could make a decision–and a profuse apology.

  • Dz says:

    Sad indeed! We should then stop all “agriculture” imported or worn products and their derivatives! Including woolen hats, cotton clothes ….. Wooden spoons! Anyone whoever saw or touched a ney flute (or any bamboo based one) will very clearly see a dry cured one like any bamboo product. So there ought to be some vicious reason or plain stupidity of the custom official, who decided to destroy these instruments

  • Sonya Lee says:

    How does U.S. Customs know whether or not he might have purchased the bamboo here in the states? You CAN buy bamboo here, both in cut pieces or growing in soil. It’s ridiculous.

  • Marguerite Foxon says:

    Are they going to destroy wooden (baroque) flutes and recorders? This is scary stuff.

  • David Feldman says:

    I’ve written the President, two Senators and my congresswoman.

    A minimum adequate response would be an official US Government apology,

    an attempt at restitution and laws passed to protect against any such future abuse.

    I’ve posted on FB and asked my friends to write to their representatives.

    I’d happily sign a petition! I don’t want to start one in case it would compete with

    an existing one started by people closer to Boujemaa Razgui.

    I sent Boujemaa Razgui, via Facebook, the email addresses of some AP reporters who would get this story on the wires, if it’s not their already (their travel editor learned it from my FB page, so as of this morning, not yet.)

    • Neville Ross says:

      Just writing the people mentioned above and contacting the reporters is enough; petitions are a waste of time.

    • Larry says:

      This story was on an open line radio talk show, (CKNW – AM980) here in Vancouver, BC, Canada earlier this week and unfortunately it was a poor presentation by both the Host – Bill Good, Prime Time between. 9:00 – 12:00 noon.

      Mr Racqui unfortunately did not express himself as clearly as he should have – IMHO, due his difficulty speaking English, and Bill Good the top Open Line Host, did not have good knowledge of the facts, the Subject, and the actual story behind the whole charade.

      It was too bad for if people here – if they actually knew all of the sad story, I am sure would have taken up the matter along with Good to further pursue the matter.

      Someone who can speak with authority and can understand Racqui would certainly be of much assistance..

      He needs to get someone to speak with authority and knowledge for him, now and in the future.

      At least that is how I understood the discussion live on the radio.

      Unfortunately there have been some very disastrous and expensive experiences with insects coming into North America via wood / plant products.

      The Customs still should not have destroyed all if his flute so quickly and without his knowledge. Ignorance of instruments is not an excuse, in my view.

  • lordairgtar says:

    I feel for any Violinist or Cellist who goes through customs. Those instruments are made of plants (wood)

  • Leading Edge Boomer says:

    This needs the widest publicity–what idiocy by US Customs!

  • Elizabeth Newman says:

    A Stradivarius violin must then also be an agricultural product since it is made from a tree.

  • John ONeal says:

    Clarinets (used by every major symphony in the US) are made of wood. Are these $10,000 instruments about to get smashed because they come from agricultural material?

  • this doesn’t make any sense. it means also anything made from wood should not be allowed. which is ridiculous. sue the crap out of them.

  • Also, I bet you anything this was a profiling incident. Hopefully there will be an investigation and either one or multiple toxic people will be fired.

  • Pin Rada says:

    Really sorry to here this. I am also a Ney player from Australia. In Australia the customs are also increadibly strict and I have heard this story many times. My own experience is different though as I have come into Australia from India, the Middle East, Nth Africa, and South America many times with my Turkish and Egyptian neys without problems. I have to say that ‘attitude’ has had a lot to do with me never having problems with reeds, skins, foreign woods. Having a very light, easy attitude has made a lot of difference in passing customs. These guys can often be pushy, rude, even racist towards people who have an accent or perhaps come across too confident. It’s really a shame that all this happens. United States is a different case again. Those customs guys are often all of these and also really paranoid of anything not coming across as “normal.” Anyway, again really sorry for the loss. Breaking a ney is like breaking the heart, and many broken neys …. my advice again is to always check in on your attitude before coming across customs.

  • Claude Palmer says:

    It reminds me of Dave Carroll’s “United Breaks Guitars” song. But it’s much worse. No song can remake or repair neys. They were his creations, from reeds. I suspect it was an awful mistake, but doubt they will give any ground. We can help him where they can’t.

  • Peter says:

    Here are some other instruments made from plants: Didgeridoo, Bagpipe,Panflute, Saxophone Reeds, Clarinet, Oboe, Bassoon, Drums, Shakers, Cuica, Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, Harp, Piano, Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo, Dulcimer, Accordion, Organ, Ukulele, Cajon, Marimba, etc, etc.

  • Tebinium says:

    What about the next Stradivarius to come in?

  • Jim says:

    Interestingly enough no one seems to have noticed the “Elephant in the room” Boujemaa Razgui, is of “middle eastern appearance” and no doubt the nice Customs man was only doing his bit to fight terrorism by breaking these instruments, because every good customs man knows that with a name and appearance like that he has to be a terrorist……..

  • Lindsay Groves says:

    I would like to see the name (and a description) of this agent and his supervisor in a follow-up article. Also, the exact (stupid) wording of the policy that was evidently so badly misunderstood needs to be out here, petitions sent, a collection taken, and official apology expressed. The policy needs to be changed. The personnel need changing too, if they find attitude adjustment problematical.

  • ted says:

    Or my Rosewood clarinet? (Okay, so it’s in the back of

    the top shelf in the closet, but just the same…)

  • James Conner says:

    Those customs guys should be made to face some pretty unpleasant music.

  • Stephen H. Owades says:

    In his own message, Mr. Razgui says that he had “material to make new neys in the case.” That presumably means raw bamboo, which might well be considered “agricultural products” capable of carrying parasites or fungi. While destroying his instruments was clearly a wrong act on the part of the Customs agent, the presence of raw bamboo makes his actions a bit more understandable. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Razgui was unable to convince Customs to bring a more experienced and senior person into the situation before his instruments were confiscated and destroyed. Let’s hope this proves to be an object lesson for Customs, and that they apologize—both verbally and tangibly—for the injury they caused.

    • Howard Lane says:

      While it might be justifiable to destroy raw bamboo if there were grounds for it being contaminated (not just “on spec”), I cannot believe they had any right to destroy artifacts before they had been properly assessed. And simply smashing them would not remove any “organisms” – they would have to be burnt. I hope he is able to gain full restitution for what must undoubtedly be unwarranted damage to his property and livelihood.

    • Great — you’re the first person here who I’ve seen scratching around for lame excuses [redacted: abuse]

    • dont hold your breath for an apology. it wont come. these agents will be promoted no doubt. And now they have set a new standard. We are being conditioned. It will get worse.

      I’m a musician and I find this extremely appalling.

      Now we will have to smuggle flutes in our ass just like they do with drugs.

  • Lauren Ayers says:

    This might be a good event for exposure on one of those online petitions, because it is about a trend that affects us all in our NSA world. Power corrupts!!! So they’ll be ripping cotton and linen blouses and shirts off passengers next? Sue the bastards!

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    I did something that Mr. Lebrecht should have done in the first place: write to the local CBP office and inquire about the matter. I received the following reply from Mr. Anthony Bucci, CBP spokesman for New York:

    (quote begins here)

    CBP is responsible for detecting and preventing the entry into the country of plant pests and exotic foreign animal diseases that could harm America’s agricultural resources. 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. 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.

    Anthony L. Bucci

    U. S. Customs & Border Protection

    Public Affairs Specialist

    One Penn Plaza

    New York, NY 10119

    (646) 733-3275 Office

    (646) 733-3283 Fax

    (202) 423-8642 Blackberry

    (quote ends here)

    I would conclude from this and from Mr. Razgui’s account that the incident is a little more complicated than first presented here and certainly not clear-cut enough to justify all the reflexive anti-American fulminations it generated.

    • Greg Hlatky, thank you for teaching me how to go about my business. The reply that you received does not relate to the flutes that were destroyed. We await a clear answer on those from CBP.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Addendum to the above: nothing I’ve written either accuses or excuses either party in this incident.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Always happy to help. In my e-mail to Mr. Bucci I forwarded the link to your original story. However, by all means feel free to contact Mr. Bucci (Anthony.bucci@cbp.dhs.gov) for any further details you may feel be of importance.

  • gil says:

    While Customs was probably unnecessarily heavy handed, everybody who travels to the US and has a connecting flight is told to collect his luggage and take it through customs. And I assume that Mr. Razgui is an experienced traveler. So why was the baggage unclaimed, which of course led to it being opened without him being present?

    And, since the flutes were both valuable and irreplaceable, why were they even in checked luggage and not in his carry-on baggage? From the picture at the top, it looks as if they were small enough to fit in a carry-on.

    • I do not know the answer to your first question but, to your second, i would say that it’s less than obvious to me that it would have made any difference whether the items concerned were in checked hold baggage or cabin baggage, as they would have had to go through Customs in any case.

      • gil says:

        True enough. Not excusing what was done. But readers of this blog know how careful most musicians are with their instrument. But he wasn’t. Strange.

  • srose says:

    Cotton is an agricultural product, why didn’t they confiscate his clothes?

    There is no excuse for this.

    • Much would indeed depend upon what is deemed to constitute not only an “agricultural product” but one that is specifically prohibited from import into US without an appropriate licence; one problem here, however, appears to stem from the fact that the items concerned were originally manufactured in US and/or Canada in the first place and so had been “exported” (to the extent of having been carried out of US) to wherever Mr Razgui had travelled before he returned to US with them.

      It seems pretty obvious that, just beause an item is made wholly or in part from wood, bamboo, horsehair or any other organic products does not mean that they are prohibited from being brought into US (accompanied, if necessary, by relevant supporting documentation).

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Oh, so then the Customs agents didn’t in fact chain Mr. Razgui to a drainpipe and extinguish lit cigarettes on him while their confederates cracked the flautistic equivalents of a Strad over their knees cackling, “Whaddaya think of that, you wind-blowing wog”? Now that would be news to the folks around here!

  • BillyC says:

    The agent inspecting them did not have the aurhority to destroy them. He could have confiscated them for a final determination but, he doesn’t have the power to do what he did. Sue the bastard!

  • Ivona says:

    He was carrying material for making more flutes, and that material might’ve been fresh bamboo (although I doubt it since the other flutes appear to be polished and otherwise processed). If he had fresh bamboo in his luggage, the ill informed official may’ve thought that the fresh bamboo has transferred plant pathogens onto the flutes.

    • B. Helms says:

      It would not have been bamboo, let alone *fresh* bamboo.

      The preferred material for ney flutes and such is Giant Reed or Giant Cane (scientific name Arundo donax – the same that is used for orchestral woodwinds), and it is a member of the Poaceae (grasses/reeds), not the Bambusoidaceae (bamboos).

      From what I know of reeds (I used to make reed pens), they generally dry standing and are cut when dry. Any reed stock purchased in the marketplace would already be well dried, though further seasoning would be desirable.

      Maybe the USDA needs to add a section specifically referring to cane reeds under Poaceae in their Import/Export manual, concluding with “INSPECT and RELEASE”.

  • samuel lebovic says:

    it boils down to the caliber of custom official intelligence we are dealing with. period. what about a straw hat??? retards and fat bastards to boot

  • Mitchell Lane says:

    Damage is done.

    What can we do to make sure it does not happen again?

    I do not hear nor do I see a petition started. I’ve looked on-line. I don’t know how to start it.


    What happened to this man, this musician, this member of our world community, was HORRIBLE.

    Floors and my pants I bought at SEARS are made of bamboo. I kid you not.

    Do I need, as Alistar Hinton suggests, to carry affidavits for each particle with which I travel?

    This is the USA at its worst.

    • Mitchell Lane says:

      It appears that the truth ALWAYS lies in the middle of all these NEWS stories.

      Read this story: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/music/canadian-flautist-boujemaa-razgui-says-us-customs-destroyed-his-instruments/article16180644/

      I just want the truth. Not clear when I read it all.

      I hate the media hype.

    • Maybe – but one question raised by this question is whether the “raw3 bamboo” was sourced from within US in the first place, in which case it would have first to have been taken out of that country before it could have been brought back in; another is whether US Customs regulations and practice empowers its officials to determine that, or whether, “raw bamboo” is likely to risk adversely infecting other items carried in close proximity to it, whether or not they are made of similar materials.

    • @ Mitchell Lane:

      I did not and do not suggest that affidavits be carried for evertying with which you are anyone else travels into and out of USA; what I do suggest is that, if anything to be so carried is on a list of prohibited items, it might be sensible to apply for a licence giving special dispensation for them to be carried and that such a document, if provided, should then need to accompany the carrier and the items concerned.

    • Please ignore my 9:52 am post which should haave read:

      @ Mitchell Lane:

      I did not and do not suggest that affidavits be carried for everything that you or anyone else takes into and out of USA; what I do suggest, however, is that, if anything to be so carried is on a list of prohibited items, it might be sensible to apply in advance for a licence giving special dispensation for them to be carried and that such a document, if provided, would then need to accompany the carrier and the items concerned.

  • Denis Teste says:

    We are tired of bad treatment of musical instruments by security at internationnal airports.

    When we carry musical instruments we are suscpected or the instruments are suspected or misstreated.

    Some low cost like easy jet charges 90 euros to put a musical instruments in their planes.

    Musicians have been travelling for centuries…

    We have to make a world wide protest in airports playing free concerts or invade them with thundreds of flight cases !!

  • Rev Allen Morgan says:

    And they wonder why people are rebelling!!! Destroyers of beauty….. Your walls of ignorance will crumble to dust but the light in the hearts of the creative will shine forever…. https://soundcloud.com/rev-allen-morgan/be-the-change-dance-remix

    • Joe T says:

      wait now they will probably link this musician to terror to blind public opinion. Even if this man had non dry bamboo sticks (god know how much we import from all over including perhaps not the most sanitary standards), will not make sense to have a test to verify before destroying these items?

      How come these customs never stop nor catch drugs that are killing our society?

      I believe this is a typical case of profiling as some lauded to previously! I could be wrong of course.

      • Frank says:

        One of the reasons why people are calling bullshit on the CBP story is that his flutes aren’t made from bamboo. Not that I expect a government drone to be intelligent enough to tell the difference.

  • Fred Dodger says:

    Here is an online petition at whitehouse.gov asking for an apology and compensation. You’ll need to register with WH.gov in order to sign.


  • Meowwl says:

    What’s next, smashing violins, cellos, guitars, clarinets, or other instruments made from wood, which also comes from plants? And as for “Raw Bamboo” it has to have been dried and the nodes removed first, otherwise you don’t have a full tube out of which to make a flute!…therefore not completely raw, and extremely unlikely to carry any kind of critters. What kind of idiots are working for the customs service these days?

  • Nancy Wang says:

    I hope he gets legal help in reparations. What a fool customs officer. Once I performed in Hawaii and was given 10 different leis. Flew back into Canada but driving back into the US, they took them all saying one of them had one aphid. I am sure they were able to surprise their wives with beautiful leis… So un thoughtful and mean really, not as bad as destroying his flutes whatsoever, but in the same thoughtlessness and mean spiritedness. Please universe provide him with reparations from JFK customs.

  • Marcus O'Reilly says:

    The music of the Soul can never be supressed, and while outrage is understandable, we must let it pass, and not be distracted by feelings of injustice, but make more music, more music, more music. it was a pretty powerful act on the part of Customs to do such a thing, but we must remember that the Spirit of music can never die! let’s be not outraged, but as a prompt to exercise Forgiveness and pray for those naughty customs people and the policy makers to have a change of heart and to be inspired by the very music they have tried to attack! Our Flutist friend has talent, bags of it! That talent has not been smashed or taken away – nothing Real has been taken away here! And the music in our Heart and Souls is ever-lasting and eternally beautiful and ever-pure! God Bless All!

  • Randy Getz says:

    What a horrible thing to do to this musician (or to anyone). But how many people understand (or even support) the political philosophy that enables this debasement of an individual, to the glory of federal power? It’s a harbinger of things to come…