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South Africa: To vuvuzela or not to vuvuzela?

Discussions about the popular instrument called the vuvuzela blown by South African football fans have dominated the blogosphere since the beginning of Confederations Cup 2009 in South Africa, which ended last week. Journalists, TV viewers, coaches and some foreign players called for a ban of the instrument during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The debate is as loud as the instrument itself. There is even an online petition to ban the instrument. FIFA has allowed vuvuzelas during the World Cup 2010 arguing that it is part of an authentic South African football culture.

This is Wikipedia description of the vuvuzela:

a blowing horn, approximately one metre in length, commonly blown by fans at football matches in South Africa. The origin of the name is disputed. It may originate from the Zulu for “making noise,” from the “vuvu” sound it makes, or from township slang related to the word for “shower.”

Opinions in the blogosphere are deeply divided. Some bloggers are completely outraged by the sound produced by vuvuzelas while others call for tolerance and understanding. One blogger goes as far as claiming that the instrument spreads HIV!

Dave Taylor describes vuvuzelas as “the traditional instruments of football mayhem.”

To Chris of World Cup blog, the vuvuzela is “that giant swarm of insects…”:

That giant swarm of insects you’ve been hearing at every Confederations Cup game is not, in fact, one of the Biblical Plagues migrating south. It’s actually called a vuvuzela…

Capitals Kremlin considers the vuvuzela the most annoying noisemaker:

Ladies and gentlemen, Caps Kremlin is pleased to present to you: the world's most annoying noisemaker, the vuvuzela.

There is one long description of the vuvuzela from 24.com:

…take a sport from England called football, take a snort of glitter-eyed powder-nosed marketing gnomes, a large liquor conglomerate wanting to increase market share, add a white guy called Van Schalkwyk with a take-the-gap mentality and a plastics factory and what do you get? The vuvuzela.

Pitch Invasion calls the vuvuzela “Satan's instrument.”

Welcome to plastic Africa:

You then follow it up with a barrage of press releases about the kudu horn being used in ancient times to summon villagers to meetings, Christian cults claiming it as part of their sacred rituals and we get stuck with football games that can only be watched on TV with the mute button firmly on. And if you don’t like it, you must be at best a racist or at worst one of those guys who when he hears the word “culture” reaches for his gun.

Welcome to plastic Africa. And rue an opportunity missed.

From the Foreign Policy blog, “The World Cup's biggest concern is a trumpet,”

Five years ago, when South Africa won the right to host the 2010 World Cup, many were concerned whether the country had the infrastructure to host the huge tournament. With one year to go, though, most observers agree that the country will be pass that test. Instead, the biggest complaints have centered on an instrument called the vuvuzela.

ReasonCheck wonders, “…if these heathen brutes could be introduced to the joys of producing actual musical notes from their hellish plastic pipes”:

If you’ve caught any of the games on TV, you would have heard a continuous droning sound, like a perpetually embittered swarm of hornets. But you really have to be there to appreciate the full horror of the cacophony. I took my son to a game a few nights ago and have been suffering from headaches ever since, and am sleeping fitfully.

I then got to thinking that if these heathen brutes could be introduced to the joys of producing actual musical notes from their hellish plastic pipes there might just be a shift in Zeitgeist amongst them and they might seek to actually make music.

Pitch Invasion looks at the history of noisemaking in world football starting with the first popular noisemaker in Britain, the wooden rattle:

The first popular noisemaker in football — and one that made a sound to make even a vuvuzela wince — was the wooden rattle in Britain.
Writing in the Guardian, Simon Burnton hoped that “perhaps South Africa can learn from the loud wooden rattles that soundtracked British football in the post-war era – and fell out of favour when everyone realised just how annoying they were. I can only hope that one day soon a similar fate will befall the vuvuzelas.”
Yet it was a shift in the entire base of fan culture, rather than a simple realisation that rattles were annoying, that removed the rattle from the terraces.
Though a fairly recent instrument at South African football games, some trace the roots to African tradition. “The ancestor of the vuvuzela is said to be the kudu horn – ixilongo in isiXhosa, mhalamhala in Tshivenda – blown to summon African villagers to meetings.”
It seems to have been in 1992 that the vuvuzela was first used at South African football matches, by supporters of AmaZulu F.C.. Supporters made the horns out of discarded tin cans, and the use spread wildly, to the joy of many and the irritation of some: South African writer Jon Qwelane wrote in 2007 that “Nowadays, there is an instrument from hell, called the vuvuzela, which has largely formed my decision to abandon all live games and rather watch on TV, with the sound totally muted.”
In the 2000s, with South Africa’s World Cup bid on the horizon, the vuvuzela became a mass produced commercialised phenomenon as the result of a grant given by SAB Miller (the giant South African brewer) to Neil van Schalkwyk’s company Masincedane Sport in 2001, who began to mass produce a cheap plastic version.

SA Sucks disputes the “history” of the vuvuzela as “the ridiculous lie being spread via Wikipedia”:

Incredibly, the ridiculous lie is now being spread via Wikipedia (thanks Karooboy for pointing out) that the origin of the Vuvuzela is actually based on a “Kudu horn” that the blacks used to blow. I almost died laughing at this pathetic fiction but suppose its to be expected – the truth that these destructive beasts ripped them from trains in orgies of vandalism is obviously too politically incorrect to swallow. A bit further down this article is an image of a yellow horn-shaped vuvuzela – I got this image from one of the hundreds of spam emails which landed up in my mailbox, urging me to order 10 000 of these pieces of shit, with my corporate logo stuck on them. The horn shape is extremely unusual but as with the Wikipedia article, to be expected as PR companies do their best to bury the real history behind it.

According to SA Sucks there is nothing authentic African about the vuvuzela:

One of the things I love most about the politicians that run this fair dominion is how, at their discretion, they can make up their own history as they go along. The vuvuzela is one such example.
Those arguing for the vuvuzela maintain that it is part of the great South African soccer culture and that not allowing it would truly be an injustice. Bullshit. They’ve been around less than ten years. It was only when some bastard called “Neil van Schalkwyk, the co-owner of Masincedane Sport, which manufactures the plastic vuvuzela, won the SAB KickStart Award in 2001, which is an SAB-run project that assists entrepreneurs by providing grants and mentorship during the start-up phase of business.” that the vuvuzela really started making an impact.

Dave Taylor found the noise from the vuvuzela annoying and distracting:

A half-dozen fans having one of these, or even a lot of fans who blow on them to celebrate a goal or terrific defensively play is one thing, but as those of us that watched the FIFA Confederations Cup learned, the practice in South Africa seems to be to keep a continuous drone of vuvuzela going throughout the match.
And we’re not talking about twenty or thirty people in the stadium, we’re talking about hundreds, if not thousands, of locals keeping a deafening racket during the entire match.

I found the constant clamor to be most distracting and annoying, and it even got in the way of being able to hear the crowd reaction to terrific plays or bad calls by referees both.

Language Log notes that vuvuzela “is woth 23 scrabble points even before bonuses — or would be, if it were added to the official word list.”

Mark Gleeson at Reuters blog thinks that in the end money will talk louder than any vuvuzela. He says that the debate around the vuvuzela has become “almost a neo-colonial conflict”:

The debate around the vuvuzela was always going to generate big noise but for some South African commentators it has become almost a neo-colonial conflict.
The noisy trumpet, which dominates the sound waves around the stadiums during the Confederations Cup, has got a lot of people covering their ears.
Complaints from TV viewers across Europe have been vociferous enough for the future of the plastic pest to become the major item on the agenda at the series of press conferences FIFA president Sepp Blatter has held during the tournament in South Africa.
At the end the day, it is the big TV money that talks. If the world’s broadcasters feel the cacophony of vuvuzelas detracts from the viewing pleasure of their public, FIFA will be forced to back down and ban the trumpets from the 2010 World Cup stadiums.
It won’t have anything to do with any ‘ism, just cold hard cash.

Bob of the unofficial blog of DC United does not understand the vuvuzela haters:

I personally don't understand the vuvuzela haters. I guess some people have no ability to filter out these quiet buzzing sounds from the ubiquitous noisemakers in the stands during the Confederations Cup matches. Apparently, they are called vuvuzelas. I want one.

From the very first seconds of the very first Confederations Cup match that I watched this year, New Zealand v Spain, I thought, “what is that interesting sound?” and then promptly filtered it out. In a similar way, when I lived in Rosslyn, under the flight path of the planes approaching National Airport, the noisy planes bothered me for about a week. Then I didn't hear it anymore.

Anyone who has been to a live soccer match knows that it is an event of experiences. There is the game itself, but there are songs, Roman Candles, smoke bombs, drums, horns. Oh yeah, and drunk supporters too.

Some of his readers disagree. One of them hates “the damn thing” because it destroys the game atmosphere:

I'm one of the haters, and I can't comprehend someone who actually enjoys watching soccer on TV liking them. I hate the damn things. But it's not because they're loud and annoying. Lots of things — hell, lots of people — are loud and annoying, even (especially) at soccer matches. It's not because they're loud and annoying. It's because they absolutely, completely, utterly destroy the game-related atmosphere at the matches. Destroy it.

Another reader says, “it's insane”:

*You* may have some wonderful ability to push it into your mental background, but for most of us, it's insane. The sound is *not* “atmospheric”, it is *not* a minor part of the viewing experience, and it is *not* acceptable.

Setumo writes about the vuvuzela and intolerance:

For the record, we do not blow the vuvuzela because we are Africans. We blow the vuvuzela because we get an adrenalin rush from the creative noise it makes. Also, we get an adrenalin rush because we are human. Not because we are Africans!
Now that we have moved away from the racial stereotype, it becomes easier to clear the noise. Subsequently, we could agree in unison that this is a matter of like, dislike and intolerance.

One of Setumo's readers argues that World Cup is not and “African” thing:

So the Vuvu is an African thing?? The FIFA 2010 fiasco is not an “African” thing .. it is an international thing. The fact is that SA is only hosting the tourno, and trying hard to get as many international visitors to SA next year. So, have a bit of understanding that most non-Africans find the V-noise irritating in the extreme. I doubt that many non-African countries aspire to be anything like “African”, given the general mayhem, murder, & mis-Government that exists in this sick Continent.

Another reader likes the sound so much and would even buy vuvuzela ringtone!:

@mcOlly – As a Texan, I would totally buy that ringtone.
All this uproar over the vuvuzela is silly. If it doesn’t sound nice on TV, then the broadcasters should turn the stadium mics down. I just learned of the vuvuzela by watching the Confederations Cup, and it makes me want to go to the WC even more.

Shine2010 thinks that vuvuzelas will teach the world tolerance and respect:

…maybe an encounter with a few thousand vuvuzelas will force the world, and soccer, to actually adopt some of the ideals – tolerance, respect, etc. – that it constantly preaches.

Robyn has become a vuvuzela addict:

I first tried to blow a vuvuzela two weeks ago, at the start of the Confederations Cup which has been held in South Africa ahead of next year’s World Cup. I failed miserably. I blew and I blew and nothing happened, just a few insipid little parps. But at the Brazil vs. Italy game, I got the hang of the vuvuzela and quickly joined the crowd in a jaunty one-note tune. Baaaah! Baaah! Baaah!
It is a sound so irritating and so obnoxious that it’s best to stick with the maxim “if you can’t beat ‘em, join em.” Not blowing a vuvuzela at a South African football game not only makes you feel a bit left out but it also makes you resent the noise everyone else it making.

I Luv SA has a piece of advice for vuvuzela haters, “Suck it up”:
Me, I'd say to Fifa, you bought the spiel to host the cup in South Africa, you get to eat up the whole enchilada which includes the main ingredient, the vuvuzela. It's like telling English fans to shut the irritating background drone they call singing. Suck it up.

“Critics are saying they are too noisy. I say so what?,” writes Ash on South Africa Football Fans blog:

That is the purpose of the Vuvuzela after all. It is there to get the atmosphere buzzzzing. This is Africa and we are renowned for dancing and singing and generally creating a great vibe at our football matches.
It’s all part of the uniquely South African experience and I’m certain that if our foreign visitors attend the games and experience the electrifying atmosphere they will fall in love with the Vuvuzela.

To me asking the local supporters to leave their Vuvuzela’s at home would be like asking the Liverpool fans not to sing You'll Never Walk Alone, or asking the Brazilian fans not to create the Samba atmosphere at their matches.

“What happened to dancing and singing and costumes?,” one reader asks and adds, “Don't let your only contribution to the world be an almost universally annoying one! “:

If that is the only culture South Africa has to share, that is pretty bad. Whatever happened to dancing and singing and costumes? Seems to work for other countries just fine. Don't let your only contribution to the world be an almost universally annoying one! 
It's a question of hospitality too. Blasting noise in our ears is just plain rude. I for one am turning the sound off. I feel sorry for anyone travelling to SA to watch the games. They have no choice in the matter.

Another reader compares the vuvuzela sound to “an annoying swarm of bees buzzing around your head…”:

The argument the blogger is making about comparing Liverpool songs and Brazil's samba atmosphere borders on retarded. I would certainly ask a Liverpool fan to stop if they just screamed one note of YWNWA in my ear for an hour and a half. There is a big difference between an annoying swarm of bees buzzing around your head a samba dance.

“You won't be watching your local teams or players,” another reader responds:

How is South Africa telling the world that they are football visitors? Visitors to the country yes. Visitors to football? Don't make me laugh. This is not South African football next year. It's world football in South Africa. You won't be watching your local teams or players.

Anders tells us that vuvuzela haters are the people who were watching the games on TV:

The vuvuzela outcry is mainly coming from those, like my friend, who are watching the tournament abroad. In the stadium, the fans love them. It's one of those things you bemoan until you actually are able to try it: think laser pointer. On TV the horns conflict with the commentary, among other things, but in the ground the ambient noise is part of the atmosphere. It is undoubtedly less abrasive in person than it is via satellite.

The real vuvuzela war, we are told, is not on the Internet but in the Netherlands:

There is a real Vuvuzela war threat in the Netherlands. The company SoccerID reported Monday to import the controversial South African horn to Europe. Within three to four weeks the first Vuvuzela's should be for sale in the Netherlands. NoLimitation however, claims to have exclusive distribution rights for the Vuvuzela.

NoLimitation BV acquired the exclusive rights to the Vuvuzela and use of the name through Urbas Kehrberg GmbH, the German company which claims to have the rights to all EU countries. This means that, according NoLimitation, they are the only company in the Netherlands with the right to sell the three-piece horn under the name Vuvuzela.

Chris of World Cup blog agrees that the vuvuzela is “quintessentially South African” but…

Problem is, it’s also quintessentially obnoxious. If you’ve watched even 30 seconds of a Confederations Cup, you’ve surely noticed the all-enveloping buzzing sound – and chances are those horns are the reason you only watched 30 seconds.
it’s just one long 90 minute droning sound. To the point you begin to wonder when the B-list horror movie is going to break out before your eyes. I’ve personally begun watching the games on mute – what with the combination of ESPN’s commentary team and the vuvuzela capable of being substituted for lethal injection and all.

Phobian suggests that the vuvuzela be allowed when South Africa plays:

The World Cup is for everyone, not just the Vuvuzela blowers. Maybe they should only be allowed at games where SA plays. The other soccer teams playing should also have some say in whether there should be Vuvuzelas or not at their games.

SA Sucks takes the vuvuzela debate to a totally new ground by arguing that apart from the possibility of damaging one's hearing, the instrument might spread HIV/AIDS!

SA Sucks writes, “Apparently Sipho would empty the vuvuzela every often by swinging it wildly, splattering strings of HIV-positive / TB (& God knows what other nasty diseases) gob all over the hapless person behind, in front of and next to him.”:

Medical experts are issuing warnings that the noise from a vuvuzela can permanently damage a person’s hearing, but that’s never mind the HIV/ AIDS dangers of this thing.
From last week’s Confederations Cup matches, spectators were blasted from all directions by the earth-shattering noise of the vuvuzela. In addition to the health hazards of ringing ears and thundering headaches, a by-product of mindlessly blowing on this instrument is the accumulation of a huge amount of saliva. Apparently Sipho would empty the vuvuzela every often by swinging it wildly, splattering strings of HIV-positive / TB (& God knows what other nasty diseases) gob all over the hapless person behind, in front of and next to him.

The vuvuzela is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the “Sub-Saharan Africoon”:

Personally, I love it! If anything is going to bring the World Cup 2010 down, and become a symbol of everything that is wrong with the sub-Saharan Africoon, it will be the damned vuvuzela. Just think how the filth, squalor, violent ape-like behaviour and deafening racket this thing produces will be beamed into 500 million White Western homes, for all the world to see.

SA Sucks warns World Cup visitors to prepare for an anthropological “baptism of fire.” The blogger experienced himself “three hours of hell on earth”:

But on Sunday I was subjected to more than three hours of this hell on earth.I vowed, then and there, that after that first (and only) evening of the authentic South African soccer experience, I would never ever allow myself to be subjected to it again. There were many things amiss that left me disappointed and angry that evening, but none so offensive to my senses as the Vuvuzela.

“If FIFA were to ban the vuvuzela then they may as well scrap the rotation policy of the World Cup and just stage it every year in Europe at times that suit the Europeans and with a European atmosphere at the stadia,” writes Visual Guidance:

Of course, there has to be something to moan about though. No complaints from the people at the stadium. They love it. No, it is the sofa slobs thousands of miles away, slouched in front of their TV and whining that the noise is giving them a headache. Boo hoo. Answer me this – are the horns any more annoying than the Ultras with mega-phones at partisan stadia across the peninsula or the England Band droning out ‘The Great Escape’ constantly at Wembley?
This tournament is being played in Africa. This is what they do at football games in their country, it’s their football culture. If FIFA were to ban the vuvuzela then they may as well scrap the rotation policy of the World Cup and just stage it every year in Europe at times that suit the Europeans and with a European atmosphere at the stadia.

Garreth finds the vuvuzela's noise awful and horrifying but feels that the global football community needs to explore new footballing cultures:

Even though the noise is awful (horrifying really) I’m inclined to agree with the SAFA on this one. As much as the World Cup is about football it is also about the global football community and exploring new footballing cultures. If I’m starting to sound a bit like a hippy here I’m sorry, but it generally is the way I feel.

The vuvuzela sound is annoying and that is why walls of Jericho fell!:

The sound is annoying! That’s why the walls of Jericho fell! The people of Jericho broke the walls down on themselves to escape the blaring! Death was the sweeter option. Now, as for those South African fans, they are ALL LUNGS! Don’t they realize the commotion they’re creating? I’m fully aware that it is the country’s soccer culture, but it has to be done away with! Nobody will buy a ticket to have some guy blow the crap out of a vuvuzela throughout the match!

Cape Town Daily Photo does not think the noise was all that bad:

I’ve never been a fan of the vuvuzela (that long plastic trumpet that South African supporters blow at soccer matches), but to be honest, it really wasn’t so bad. They weren’t too loud and I have to say that they did add to the atmosphere significantly. They are an integral part of South African soccer culture and it just wouldn’t be the same without them.

Getting ready for World Cup 2010?:

Buy ear plugs from a music store – you’ll still be able to enjoy the atmosphere, even if you find a vuvuzela positioned right next to your ear.

If you are a fan of vuvuzela, you can visit Blow Me website to blow the virtual vuvuzela.

  • Dolla

    What is actually funny is that South African fans know how to create a unique atmosphere at the stadium without plastic horns. Even the team knows how to sing:

    http://www.footballiscominghome.net/video/the-vuvuzela-conspiracy/

  • david

    Excellent article, and well represented.
    I’m one of the haters, and live in johannesburg. Aside from being the only “musical instrument” that is tuneless, talentless, and provides only a single discord at high volume, i fully believe the assertion that they were initially stolen off trains.
    Imagine a train sitting next to the stadium, with it’s hooter on full blast. Surely any sane person would ask it to silence?
    And never mind during the matches, these supporters seem to think it ok to walk home blowing it. An entire city full of obnoxious noise.
    And recommending people “buy earplugs” (!?)
    i recommend they stay home.

  • http://chrismmm.wordpress.com/ chrismmm

    Although i agree that it is very obnoxious..I also think it is hilarious that people get upset over it.

    keep on blowing brothers and sisters!!

  • http://www.visualguidanceltd.blogspot.com mrjyn

    thanks. most comprehensive vuvuzuela article ever written. unfortunately the excerpted clip from my blog was just a repost, but i’ll take it.

    it was a vain attempt to communicate with the woman of my dreams on the set of the clint eastwood movie, liz van den berg, but unfortunately she’s not much of a blog reader.

    i do like the vuvu though.

    mj

  • http://achokandayen.blogspot.com Lola The explorer

    LMAO @ u guys making this such a big deal…like David said either stay home or buy earplugs.

  • http://www.spitorswallow.co.za/blowme.php grey
  • A van Coller

    The vuvuzelo is causing noise induced hearing loss because 120 dB is not good for anyone. People hate this plastic rubbish in Europe, Australia etc. Get some earplugs to sell at the gate . One fu.. sound all the time. You must be brain dead to listen to this sound. Do something to welcome our overseas guests. Without their money you can stop building now.

  • http://www.buy-vuvuzela.com/ vuvuzela

    There will be no World Cup with no Vuvuzela or a Kuduzela

  • http://www.aahalearning.com Bruce Copley

    Dr Bruce Copley has made an exciting discovery enabling all vuvuzela players to create sweet music with the instruments without any modifications…..Google RAINBOW VUVUZELA to see and hear this exciting discovery

  • http://www.penalba.info/ el desalmado

    Prohibir las vuvuzelas seria una descortesia colonialista de ver lo cultural como una costumbre molesta a los “educados” oidos foraneos.

    Banning vuvuzelas would be a colonialist discourtesy of seeing a cultural act as an annoying act to the “educated” foreign ears….

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