International musician: U.S. Customs destroyed my instruments

Posted at 8:20 AM, Jan 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-03 10:20:00-05

By Felicia Schwartz

NEW YORK (CNN) — For the past 26 years, musician Boujemaa Razgui, a Canadian citizen based in Boston, has traveled around the world and across the United States with his instruments, 11 neys and two kywalas, in tow. Razgui has a green card and grew up in Marrakesh.

Razgui supports himself and his family playing these instruments. Last month, he traveled from Marrakesh, Morocco, to Boston, passing through Madrid and New York, a trip he has made numerous times without incident.

When he arrived in New York on December 22, his suitcase with the instruments and materials he purchased in Morocco to make new instruments was not there. He was told the bag would be in Boston, but when he arrived, he obtained an empty suitcase without his prized instruments inside.

He contacted John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 23 to inquire about the missing instruments, and he said a customs employee told him that his instruments were “destroyed safely” because they were considered agricultural products.

A spokesperson from U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Razgui did not claim his bag at JFK. Typically, passengers clear immigration and are subject to customs inspections based on what they declare to have brought into the United States, the Customs spokesperson said. Razgui was not present for the inspection because he did not claim his bag.

Customs agriculture specialists at JFK discovered “fresh 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 Customs spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson said agriculture specialists did not find or destroy any instruments, only fresh bamboo.

Razgui said he did not understand what happened. At the very least, he told CNN, he wished Customs would have contacted him and asked about his belongings.

While he is sad to lose the instruments and the materials, he said he would have forfeited the reeds he purchased in Morocco if it meant keeping his instruments.

“I have three kids, I make a living with this flute,” he said. “Now I don’t have them.”

Razgui says Customs destroyed 13 flute-like instruments: 11 neys and two kywalas, a shorter flute. The Customs spokesperson, however, said agriculture specialists neither found nor destroyed any instruments.

Razgui’s music career has taken him to Canada, Europe and the United States. He said he has played at Lincoln Center, alongside Cirque de Soleil, and was featured in Shakira and Beyonce’s song “Beautiful Liar.”

In the past, he said, his instruments have been subject to increased scrutiny by Customs officials, but he has never had his instruments confiscated.

“I don’t know what to do; I need my materials to make my living,” he said. The reeds used to make his neys can only be found in Spain, Morocco and the Middle East, he said.

Razgui, 55, has been playing the ney since has was 12. He said he made all of the instruments himself.

While visiting family in Morocco, Razgui traveled to seven cities to find the right materials to bring home to make additional flutes, he said.

Now Razgui says his music career is on hold, as he has limited access to additional flutes in the United States. He borrowed some from a professor at Boston College, he said, but their quality does not compare with those he lost.

Razgui said he had to cancel a concert at a hotel in Holbrook, Massachusetts, on New Year’s Eve.

“I need something to work with, it doesn’t make sense to me that they were just cut off, I have a big heart for this,” he said. “Right now I don’t have a job; I don’t know what to do.”

The Customs spokesperson said any passenger who has an issue can file a report online or contact Homeland Security.

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