Ballaké Sissoko (courtesy of WOMEX’s Flickrstream)

Outrage poured in from around the world when news broke that a musician’s priceless instrument was destroyed by Transportation Security Administration officials in the United States. Ballaké Sissoko shared photos of the broken pieces of his kora, a traditional West African instrument that resembles a harp, to social media yesterday afternoon, February 5. When the Malian musician arrived at his destination in Paris on February 4, he opened up the case to find the rare instrument shattered and a Spanish-language TSA note saying they had gone through his belongings. 

Although it’s unclear when exactly Sissoko’s kora was destroyed in transit, the damage is extensive and possibly irreversible. His kora had been custom made to his specifications. As the statement posted to his Facebook account explains, “Even if all the components that have been disassembled were intact, it takes weeks before a kora of this calibre can return to its previous state of resonance. These kinds of custom-made koras are simply impossible to replace.”

Sissoko had just completed a successful 2-week cross-country tour with his band, 3MA, when he returned home to Paris to rest. The next day, he opened the case to the horrific scene with the TSA note apologizing for the inconvenience. 

The Facebook statement raised questions as to whether TSA would have taken apart a more western instrument, or was this especially egregious act only happened to musicians of African heritage. “In Mali, the jihadists threaten to destroy musical instruments, cut the tongues out of singers, and silence Mali’s great musical heritage,” said Sissoko’s statement. “And yet, ironically, it is the USA customs that have in their own way managed to do this.”

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