Friday, March 12, 2010

Vuvuzela: SA football's beautiful noise

What's plastic, a metre long, brightly coloured and sounds like an elephant?

It's the vuvuzela, the noise-making trumpet of South African football fans, and it's come to symbolise the sport in my country.

It's an instrument, but not always a musical one!!
Describing the atmosphere in a stadium packed with thousands of fans blowing their vuvuzelas is
Up close it's an elephant, sure, but en masse the sound is more like a massive swarm of very angry!

And when there's action near the goal mouth, those bees go really crazy.

I must say that to get that sound out requires lip flexibility and lung strength - in short, a fair amount of technique.

Be sure to get in some practice before attending a South African football match, or the sound you produce may cause some amusement in the seats around you!!!

I was told "Put your lips inside the mouthpiece and almost make a 'farting' sound.
Relax your cheeks and let your lips vibrate inside the mouthpiece. As soon as you get that trumpeting sound, blow harder until you reach a ridiculously loud 'boogying blast'."

What should it sound like? Try this .wav file from

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. Later versions were made of tin.

The trumpet became so popular at football matches in the late 1990s that a company, Masincedane Sport, was formed in 2001 to mass-produce it. Made of plastic, they come in a variety of colours - black or white for fans of Orlando Pirates, yellow for Kaizer Chiefs, and so on - with little drawings on the side warning against blowing in the ear!

There's uncertainty on the origin of the word "vuvuzela".
Some say it comes from the isiZulu for - wait for it - "making noise".
Others say it's from township slang related to the word "shower", because it "showers people with music" - or, more prosaically, looks a little like a shower head.

The announcement, on 15 May 2004, that South Africa would host the 2010 Fifa World Cup gave the vuvuzela a huge boost, to say the least - some 20 000 were sold on the day by enterprising street vendors.

It's a noisy thing, so there's no surprise some don't like it...someone even described it as "an instrument of hell".

Vuvezalas are bound to play an integral part in South Africa's 2010 celebrations, and World Cup visitors are sure to go home with a vuvuzela or two tucked in their luggage - and a little ringing in their ears ...

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