United States airport security officials have responded to a social media post which allegedly accused them of destroying a prized traditional musical instrument. The officials denied destroying the precious musical instrument, a kora, a traditional 21-string lute from West Africa belonging to Ballaké Sissoko.
The West African born Sissoko from Mali, one of the world’s greatest players of the kora, had touched down in Paris on February 4, after flying from New York at the end of a US tour, and was horrified to find that his instrument had been “completely destroyed,” and he took to social media to denounce what he termed “cultural ignorance and racism.”
According to a post on Sissoko’s Facebook page, the lute had been dismantled, with a note left by the agents, in Spanish, reading “intelligent security saves time.” Music producer Lucy Duran commented on the post, “Would US customs have dared to dismantle a Stradivarius?” referring to a class of fabled violins, while adding “These kinds of custom-made koras are simply impossible to replace.”
However, the US Transport Security Administration, which screens luggage for explosives, said in a statement to AFP on Sunday that it played no part in the damage. It added that it knew agents did not search Sissoko’s instrument case because “it did not trigger an alarm when it was screened,” and was tagged appropriately.
The broken kora generated significant media interest and social media comment around the world this week after Sissoko suggested white musicians would have been treated better.
“This is an unprovoked and sad act of aggression, a reflection of the kind of cultural ignorance and racism that is taking over in so many parts of the world,” his Facebook post said. The musician told AFP on Sunday that his kora was broken by the time he opened his case after landing in Paris, and admitted the airline could have been responsible.
“Maybe the message is too strong and I should have said it differently,” Sissoko said. He added, however, that he was shocked and angry that his kora was beyond repair and that whoever was responsible should have respected it. “I’m not trying to play the media to get money,” Sissoko said.
Corinne Serres, his manager, told Le Monde Afrique that it had been “an enormous shock” for him and that the damage was irreversible.
“Ballaké says it’s like a forced divorce and he can no longer play the instrument. It’s a definitive separation.”
Adding to confusion surrounding the affair, Mali’s culture ministry released a statement on Saturday saying it would “do everything legally and diplomatically possible to obtain reparation” for the offence. But on Sunday it removed the statement from its website and issued another one that denied the earlier release came from the culture ministry, without giving further details. Mali’s Culture Minister N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo told AFP on Sunday that her department’s statement on Saturday was simply “fake,” without clarifying further.
Sissoko said that he was contacted by the Malian embassy in Paris about the kora incident and that he plans to meet government officials when he is next in Mali. He added that friends had told him the government appeared to have asked for “reparation” but that he was unaware the statement had been removed.