Flute virtuoso's rare instruments destroyed by US customs


Thanks for that. My google fu was failing me trying to find links about importing bamboo (my brain is still trying to recover from NYE). So, yes, the fact that they were not bamboo, but instead “rare reeds”, is a bit of added information that actually is immaterial to the case at hand.

I found a couple more links regarding this story with some more commentary from the musician directly, as well:



Because agents wouldn’t let him take them on carry-on luggage, perhaps? Because he didn’t know if agents would let them through in carry-on luggage? Because they were too bulky to fit in carry-on luggage? We don’t really know.


making flutes? no? then how would you know a thing about finding appropriate stock to make them with? oh, that’s right - you’d be useless. go sit on your range and be that way.


we also have bamboo in the states. i’ve seen it.


no, legally i should not expect my property abused when i contract to fly.


Yes, there is bamboo in the States. But it’s illegal to import live (ie able to propagate) bamboo from outside the country, to protect (in theory) said bamboo that is already there. But again, that’s neither here nor there as the instruments in question - and materials to make said instruments, apparently, according to the second link I posted above - were not live shoots, and had no ability to propagate.


so? who cares what they make illegal? the last great blight will be the next great blight, over and over. and seriously, protect bamboo??? live samples would make more of a threat from micro organisms, true. still, if you had to protect something as indestructible as bamboo, you probably haven’t survived. maybe they enacted the restriction to prevent contamination to other phyla?

i’d have assumed they banned it as a menace, which it isn’t.


I’d be willing to suspect US Customs is doing stupid $#!+ more often than usual under the current regime, but alas, this is a risk one runs with customs officials anywhere and at any time. Sometimes you hit one who doesn’t have a clue and doesn’t have the brains or guts to admit it.


What? I’m not talking about making flutes at all. I’m talking about the choice of language. Difficult in finding things need not have anything at all do with rarity, and all the source said is that the reeds were “hard to find;” it’s Cory who extended that to mean “rare.”

For instance, it’s very hard to find neutrinos, but neutrinos themselves are not “rare.”


so what qualifies a reed as acceptable for crafting into a flute? how many fit that qualification?


You think the TSA is gonna let a Middle Eastern-looking dude bring a suitcase full of two-foot wooden “clubs” in carry-on?


There are something like 1,400 species of bamboo. Some of it is horribly invasive and will take over. Once you have it established, it can be almost impossible to get rid of. What we have in the US is very aggressive and difficult to manage but there are species out there that makes our bamboo look wimpy.


As a former baggage handler, I fully expect that any bag that I check will be abused in some way. I certainly don’t put faith in the TSA to be upstanding either. There are plenty of decent baggage handlers and TSA people, but all it takes is one clown to ruin things. For me it’s carry-on only.


Apparently, the original reason for the bamboo ban was to prevent the spread of bamboo smut (which is just an awesome name, in itself): http://www.bamboo.org/GeneralInfoPages/BambooQuarantine.html

Having said that, there’s also dacree’s post as well. :slight_smile:


This is horrible. I hope he sues.

“In New York, he says, an official opened his luggage and found the 13 flutelike instruments — 11 nays and two kawalas.”

I wonder if the “kawalas” that were destroyed are a relation of the panpipe-esque reed “quills” that American bluesmen like Henry Thomas played? I was told no one knew how to make them any more. I certainly hope Mr. Razgui can make more as this sounds fascinating and I would love to go to a concert.


Thanks for that. I had no idea about the smut. My experience with the stuff is from the gardeners point of view. We’ve been fighting golden bamboo (phyllostachys aurea) in the Dallas Green Belt for a while now and people still plant the stuff in their back yards or as living fences. I love the look, but around here, it’s a beautiful bit of evil.


The War on the Unusual has brought us all the way to a society of absolute conformity. Even in this forum, posters leap to blame the victim when an incident such as this occurs. He should have expected it, they say, because what he was doing was out of the ordinary - beyond the comprehension of a former schoolyard bully with an eighth-grade education. After all, we can’t be too careful. If your stuff can’t immediately be recognized as innocuous, it must be presumed harmful. Moreover, the very act of being unusual is the equivalent of turning in a false alarm: it endangers us all by diverting the authorities’ attention from the “real bad guys.”

This attitude is nothing less than an utter rejection of personal autonomy. That which makes you you - whatever sets you apart as a distinct individual from your neighbours - must be rooted out and destroyed. It’s a war on an essential aspect of humanity - the ability to self-identify as a unique individual. And over half of our society shows by their votes that they’re in favour of it.


This is not to take any heat off of customs. Nor do I blame the musician at all for this…

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)

I believe what really confused the agent, was 2) - the materials to make nays while overseas. I don’t think the real bigotry here is against agriculture products so much, as the suspicious manufacture of things outside the expected venue.

I suspect that if 2) had been packed separately, he might have lost them still, but the actual instruments may well have made it through. And if it were just the raw materials that had been destroyed, I wouldn’t feel nearly so outraged.


While he should in no way have to expect this kind of behavior from customs agents and ought to at least be compensated, he does know that baggage can get lost, stolen, or damaged, and if he flies regularly (sounds like he does) then he should either not travel with all the flutes checked together, or buy baggage insurance.


Listening to your link, and from the description, quills sound like a kind of panpipes. The kawala is the Egyptian version of the instrument that’s called a ney in Turkey and a Kaval in Bulgaria and Macedonia. It’s kind of hard to describe, but the embouchure is very different from that you would used with a transverse flute or an end-blown flute like a shakuhachi. The stream of air is split vertically rather than horizontally.