TSA destroys prominent Malian musician's custom-made traditional instrument

Image: Ballak? Sissoko, left, in concert in Paris on Sept. 9, 2015.
Ballake Sissoko with his kora at a concert in Paris. Copyright Paul Charbit
Copyright Paul Charbit
By Isobel van Hagen and Sarah Kaufman with NBC News World News
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"Would US customs have dared to dismantle a Stradivarius?" said Ballaké Sissoko.


One of Mali's most prominent musicians has criticized the Transport Security Administration after his "impossible-to-replace" instrument was destroyed by agents at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Ballaké Sissoko told NBC News via email that his custom-made kora — a 21-string bridge-harp used extensively in West Africa — was "totally destroyed."

"Normally they just open the flight case because of the strange shape of the instrument and case," he said. "This time, they disassembled and broke it."

Calling it a "terrible situation," he added that he hoped "to get an apology at some point."

In an earlier Facebook post about the incident, Sissoko, 52, said he discovered the instrument in pieces on Tuesday, at his home in Paris. He said he had boarded the flight on Feb. 2. and arrived in the French capital the following day.

It was accompanied by a note in Spanish from the TSA which said: "Smart security saves time."

NBC News has approached the TSA for comment.

In his Facebook post, Sissoko asked whether the agents would have "dared to dismantle a Stradivarius," violin, adding that his Kora had been destroyed because of the "cultural ignorance and racism that is taking over many parts of the world."

Sissoko had just completed a tour of U.S. cities including Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and New York with his group 3MA. The band takes its name from the first two letters of each member's country of origin in French: Mali, Maroc, Madagascar.

Sissoko started playing the kora for the "Orchestre National du Mali" when he was 13, and eventually toured across Africa. after moving to France, he formed his own troupe, gaining international recognition.

Sissoko said he would now have to travel to Mali's capital, Bamako, to buy parts for a new kora.

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