Friday, January 3, 2014

Not Beyond Outrage After All

The summary at Kos gives the basics of the cause for my outrage:

US Customs Officials Destroy Musician's Instruments (Updated)

by Land of Enchantment

Too fucking stupid for words. Wanton destruction, and for no useful purpose at all.

Not a lengthy story, but absolutely outrageous. I think this deserves some attention:
Boujemaa Razgui, a flute virtuoso who lives in New York and works with many US ensembles, was returning to base over the holiday when Customs officials at Kennedy Airport asked to see his instruments. Bourjemaa carries a variety of flutes of varying ethnicity, each made by himself over years for specific types of ancient and modern performance.
At JFK, the officials removed and smashed each and every one of his instruments. No reason was given.
An artist's livelihood. A lifetime of skill and craft wantonly destroyed. Perhaps because he's Arab? (He's Moroccan, having moved to New York via Montreal.) It's not like they couldn't have checked that he was a "real" musician!

Additional info available from Arts Journal, Slipped Disc, and again Slipped Disc (with [copyrighted] photos of the flutes).

Mr. Razgui is originally from Morocco, is a Canadian citizen, and has toured the world for a dozen or more years with no problems. Did I mention that to no one's surprise he looks like an Arab?

I have a strange feeling the TSA or ICE agents who did the smashing are not liable to lawsuit. Mr. Razgui is just out a lifetime's painstaking hand-work, with no likelihood of recompense.

Andean Quenas... I own a similar flute,
and many stranger-looking woodwinds
In my youth, when I toured occasionally with The Broken Consort, toting one or sometimes two cases full of truly odd-looking wind instruments, copies of historical originals (imagine what those looked like on X-rays!), I feared such an incident. Nothing ever happened. Sometimes the agent wanted to see the instruments or proof that I owned them in the United States; more typically, they didn't want even that. But that was 1978. And this is now. Welcome to the wonderful world of now!


  1. I still can't get my head around the effing rudeness and stupidity of this action. Has anyone said exactly why they didn't question Razgui first?

    1. Welcome, JJPR. As best I understand it from reading the few posts available, officials offered him no reason other than that his instruments were an "agricultural product" and thus could not be imported. Either this evidences the officials' stupidity beyond belief, or else they did it just to spite someone who is an Arab. I couldn't begin to say which. Maybe both.

      I do know, from my attempts to voice my own recorders and to tune renaissance flutes by filing finger-holes, that flute-making is surely a very tedious, time-intensive process, and the officials laid waste to many hours of skilled labor.

  2. They claimed it was raw bamboo. Uhm, except his flutes quite clearly were *not* raw bamboo, because raw bamboo is useless for a flute, as anybody who has ever handled bamboo knows -- raw bamboo is soft and cannot be worked until it is dried. Furthermore, their very own regulations state that bamboo which has been formed into furniture or instruments is exempt from the ban.

    They apparently *did* question Razgui, and he told them that they were flutes and materials for making more flutes. And they smashed them. Right there on the concours. In complete defiance of all rules and regulations, which call for a receipt to be issued and the disputed goods to be stored pending appeal, with the option to be re-exported if it turns out they are in fact contraband. But apparently these ignorant fools didn't believe him because flutes are made out of plastic or metal, these were bamboo shoots with worm holes in them, right? Sigh. Heathens. Barbarians. Despoilers of the arts. A pox upon them. May bards sing of their despicability for the rest of eternity.

    1. Sigh. BadTux, of all my flutes... transverse flutes both modern and old-style, block flutes (recorders), edge flutes (shakuhachi, ney, pennywhistle), pan pipes, etc. ... exactly two are metal: one conventional modern flute (rather old and not in very good condition) and one Irish pennywhistle. Most are made of some really fine-grained hardwood (African or Caribbean blackwood; rosewood) or similarly dense wood that is easier to work (boxwood) or in a few instances maple. A lot of the "folk" flutes (no disparagement; many are quite sophisticated in their construction despite their apparent simplicity) are, like Razgui's flutes, bamboo. And no, they are not raw bamboo; I used to have raw bamboo growing in my back yard, and I know how different it is from dried bamboo. It would be impossible to tune a flute of raw bamboo by scraping or filing the edges of holes. And I've done a lot of filing of finger-holes in my day; I know what I'm talking about.

      People like those agents shouldn't be compared to heathens and barbarians... it's unfair to heathens and barbarians.

    2. Indeed, I don't think even the Visigoths and Vandals destroyed musical instruments. Which makes them more civilized than these Customs agents.

      Raw bamboo would be utterly useless for a flute. The damp and soggy interior would damp out any sounds immediately. Thus the word "damp". Duh. It takes a lot of filing and scraping to make a reed flute resonate correctly and no two are alike, so these flutes literally *are* irreplaceable. But why do I get the sense that someone in the Customs office in New York actually took the flutes home for his children to play with, because he thought they were toy flutes? Naw, that would never happen, right?

    3. 'Tux, when someone steals (or destroys) your instrument, they steal (destroy) your whole way of playing it as well. The simpler the instrument, the greater the truth of that statement. I do not envy Mr. Razgui his task in not only making new flutes but learning to play them.

      I once chatted over lunch with a Canadian maker of Renaissance recorders. He remarked that the few surviving instruments from that period and on through the Baroque period are... to use his word... quirky. He was utterly convinced that performers of the day were more than willing to tolerate those quirks to get the colors they wanted on every scale, no two of which sounded exactly alike. And yet the best evidence from reading period treatises is that professional performers back then were every bit as demanding of flawless intonation as today's best orchestral wind players... they understood and could hear the difference between G-sharp and A-flat, and tune a particular note to the chord in which it stood, no problem. So on a "quirky" instrument, the pitch of almost every note has to be adjusted... on transverse flutes, by bobbing and ducking your head; on block flutes, by shading or partially opening another finger hole not mentioned in the "official" fingering for a note. People have always done it, for three centuries that we know of. And they still do, even with the near perfection of the best-made Boehm flutes. One should never underestimate the flutes of earlier centuries... or their players in those centuries.

    4. Indeed, the closest thing I play to a flute is the Irish whistle, and the only Bb whistle I have, there is one hole that is very slightly "off". To get that note I have to very slightly move my finger to just starting to impinge upon it. Otherwise it does not sound right. Oddly enough, in combination with the holes below it, it sounds fine. Clearly something funky in the construction of this whistle but I live with it because Bb whistles are hard to find.

      I definitely do not envy Mr. Razgui his task of making and learning new flutes...

    5. Yep. And I don't envy you your air travel. I don't know if you ever fly to gigs, or have occasion to carry instruments on planes... but it obviously hasn't gotten easier in the past 30+ years. Now that I'm both retired and too crippled to perform, I simply choose not to fly... at all. Mr. Razgui's experience merely confirms the validity of my decision.



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