Vuvuzela: lip service to tradition – or mindless cacophony?

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It is no longer much use ranting at England, but we can still get hot under the collar about vuvuzelas. Should their inventor, along with whoever inflicted the Mexican wave on the world, be tied to a ton of stone and dropped into the deepest stretch of the Orange River? Probably, though at least L’Equipe’s cartoonist found a use for them after France’s exit (the caption, in case you missed the earlier reference, reads “Good riddance”). Here are some thoughts from Claire Thomas* …

The vuvuzela – South Africa’s pleasant sound, or just a noise?

If you have been watching the World Cup, you will have noticed the continuous sound of the vuvuzela buzzing all around the stadium like a swarm of bees. Does it make you want to throw your remote at the TV screen at any given opportunity – or do you welcome the sound with open ears?

Before the start of the South African World Cup 2010 many of us were more likely to ask vuvu-what? But now the whole world has picked up on the vuvuzela hype, splitting the world in half – you either love it or you hate it. Vuvu-hu?

Also known as the stadium horn, soccer (meaning football – ed.) horn or boogieblast, the vuvuzela is a three feet long blowing horn.

In South Africa it has been made popular at many sporting events (you would have heard it in any game involving South Africa). It was originally, however, introduced to children as a toy, something to keep them occupied. However it wasn’t very popular (which parent is openly going to risk being driven insane by the combination of child and noise machine?). Upon further inspection, it was decided the creators were aiming it at the wrong target market, and that it should instead be pushed towards sports fans; thus did it gain popularity in the country by the 1990s.
vuv2Image: Shine 2010
Where did it come from?

It has been used by Mexican sports fans since the 1970s, and was originally made out of tin.

Freddie Maake, 55, claims to have created the aluminium version in 1965 from an old bike horn. He said the instrument was banned after being thought to be a dangerous weapon, leading to the introduction of the plastic horn (it has also been said he won’t receive a penny for his creation despite its new reached world-wide fame).

The original place of origin seems to be in dispute. Common belief assumes it is similar to the kudu which used to be blown to tell locals of a meeting to be taken place. Another suggestion came from the Nazereth Baptist Church, which claimed to have used the vuvuzela on pilgrimage until they lost the vuvuzela in the 1990s when a football team visited the church.

Eventually it made its way from aluminium to plastic and has ended up blasting out throughout the South African soccer stadiums during the 2010 World Cup.

When did it get so popular?

Given that the vuvuzela has been around for two decades, it has taken a while to become popular worldwide. It was brought to the world’s attention during the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, although it was originally subject to ridicule from Jon Qwelane, South African columnist and sports writer, as “an instrument from hell”, and had apparently begged for it to be banned in time for the 2010 World Cup. Fifa also had concerns about vuvuzelas: their possible use as a weapon, or businesses advertising on them (against regulations).

Why ban it?

There have been a lot of criticisms and complaints regarding the vuvuzela since the start of the World Cup – from being simply annoying, to affecting the game play of the footballers and even health scares. During the 2009 Confederations Cup, a ban was called for by the Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso and the Netherlands coach Bert Van Marwijk after claims that communication between the players was difficult if not impossible, being drowned out by the horns. During the cup, Fifa received a number of complaints from companies broadcasting the matches – listeners couldn’t hear what the commentators were saying.

Fifa decided to allow the horns to the matches albeit if they are less than three feet in length (so you will be hearing it for some time yet and may need to get used to it).

Now many footballers, including Messi, Ronaldo and Patrice are blaming the wailing of the horns for below-average performances due to lack of communication and concentration.

Those watching the aired matches have also made many complaints about the constant buzzing sound in the background – some have even resorted to watching the games with the volume on mute. While the sound of the vuvuzelas haven’t been limited to just the games, but out on the streets, with many shopping centers banning them – and some football players demanding earplugs to block out the wail.

It has also been suggested that the horns, which sound reaches 127 decibels could lead to hearing loss (especially if blown closely to someone’s ear…ouch!). Fans have been urged to wear earplugs and ear muffs to drown out the noise and make the lasting effect less damaging. Doctors have suggested that the blowing of so many vuvuzelas could lead to the spread of cold and flu germs – so perhaps keeping the anti-bacterial wash handy may be an idea.

Ah, I see – so why hasn’t it been banned?

As much as the vuvuzela has been the talk of much criticism, it has defied many and remained unbanned at the World Cup. W hy? Because many still like it! The president of Fifa, Sepp Blatter has stuck up for the poor vuvuzela, claiming Africa has always had a “different rhythm” and that they shouldn’t ban the music traditions of the country, while others have suggested that many are attempting to Europeanise the country.

The point is that the vuvuzela is part of South Africa’s identity. Fifa’s chief communications officer, Rich Mkhondo, said the vuvuzela has worldwide appeal. It is a way of expressing the fans’ joys on watching the games – while giving it the extra vibe, something which should be remembered after the tournament.

How to play a vuvuzela like a professional

The guarantee is that the vuvuzela is bound to be huge, even after the World Cup, so knowing how to play one is generally a must and will score you some major bonus points (in certain social circles – ed.).

• Put the narrow end between your lips
• Direct your breath down the horn and blow!

Claire Thomas works for a firm that supplies luxury viewing furniture, theaterseatstore.com. If you’re French, Italian, English or American, your desire to invest in such stuff, regardless of its comfort, may have been diminished by painful recent events. But I suppose the people pushing the seats are counting on there being a few left who’d appreciate watching the final stages as if they were at the theatre (though not, I hope, as if at one of those West End theatres adopting the Sir Richard Branson approach to legroom).

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4 thoughts on “Vuvuzela: lip service to tradition – or mindless cacophony?”

  1. I agree totally Martin. It has drowned out the crowd and the sound of voices almost totally.

    Do the South Africans blow these things because they don’t shout and sing at matches? The atmoshere at a game is created by the constant change from the stands as excitement builds, with the “Oohs and Aaahs.” Sorry Keith it might be a tradition. but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good idea. There’s all sorts of unspeakable nonsense that masquerades as culture, and in that context plastic trumpets should be the least of our worries.

  2. I’ve actually gotten used to the vuvuzela on TV and barely notice it any more as a background to the games, except when there’s a move starting and the vuvuzelas go into a sort of throbbing rhythm, which is quite effective. And, especially in later games, you’ve been able to hear a bit more singing and chanting in spite of the vuvuzelas. I’m less enamoured of them here because you generally only hear one or two at a time, being blown rather haphazardly by people who haven’t quite mastered the technique. I suspect, though, that they’ll die away everywhere but South Africa as quickly as they became popular.
    As far as communication goes, they don’t seem to have unduly affected anyone but Capello and Domenech who I’m sure will eventually get around to blaming the vuvuzela for all their woes.

  3. Fair comment Keith. It is your tradition and that should be respected. However, so should ours, and if those plastic nightmares ever infiltrated our stadiums, creating a horrific noise that sounds like a large fart, I doubt I could ever feel the same about the game again. You’re right – it eliminates the crowd, the singing, the ooh’s, the aahhh’s, and destroys the atmosphere as we know and love it. Personally, I don’t understand the mentality of a grown man wanting to blow on a plastic gadget, not unlike a 3 year old at a birthday party. I’d like to think there was more singing at the England game because England fans are a tad more discerning than most. But hold that thought. Very soon a man called Bill Taylor will intervene to agree with you, and rave about the Vuvu’s. Mark my words.

  4. The vuvuzela is part and parcel of South African soccer ( Soccer is a coruption of the word Assocciation) It until recently was never heard at a rugby match, I am told the rugby authorities banned it from the recent rugby tests. In Soweto it is part of every game. Do you want to come to a world cup in Africa and feel like you’re in England? I have attended many matches and although it is different it certainly isn’t deafening nor does it make communication impossible. The locals love it. It does eradicate chanting and singing which devalues the atmosphere but at the recent England game in PE the singing could be heard. It is part od South Africa and I believe FIFA would be better employed trying to implement goal line technology than worrying about a trumpet.

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