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The Vuvuzela: The Worst Musical Instrument Ever Conjured

Blow me down…

At the time of writing, it’s Friday afternoon. I’ve just watched part of the soccer match between South Africa and Mexico on SuperSport 3 on DSTV. Kick-off was at 4 PM. It was god awful and I couldn’t stand to watch it anymore. Now I know why the two teams were pitted against each other: just for a laugh, really.

But you should have heard the noise in that stadium. I couldn’t stand to have the volume on the TV higher than a few bars. And it’s because of one thing (or many things actually): the vuvuzela.

And it wasn’t just on the TV either, seeing as there were these obnoxious kids in the neighbourhood who’ve been blowing the damn things all day. They’re all on holiday now you see. The school term ended just recently. That means all day every day for the next month or so I’ll have to put up with all this.

On the TV, or from a distance, these vuvuzelas sound a bit like buzzing bees or something to that effect. Up close, it’s more like an elephant.

I’ll make it clear: I hate these things with a passion. I have for years now. I hate having to hear them outside, I hate having to hear them in adverts on the TV and the radio. It’s bloody annoying to say the least.

It all started one day, years ago, when I was walking along the roadside minding my own business, just taking in a stroll, and a car came past, with the back window open, and the passenger proceeded to put this thing through the window and blew it right at me. No, it’s not what you think it was. It wasn’t a fart or something else, but it was this vuvuzela. They do that you know. A hit and run or a drive-by, where they drive past and one guy blows the thing at someone only to look out the window at the victim afterwards with a wide smile on his face. Smug son of a b*tch. I was so taken aback that I almost forgot to throw my usual one finger salute in response.

The vuvuzela might have an African name, but it’s nothing new. The thing has been around at soccer matches for at least the last twenty years or so, with some having been seen at the 1990 FIFA World Cup. The thing is that there’s just more of them here than anywhere else.

Vuvuzela is supposedly a Zulu name, with some saying it's slang for shower, but another name for it is a lepatata, which is Setswana. There are similar instruments from other countries, particular in South America, like the corneta. Some just call it a stadium horn.

The origin of the instrument is debated. Even though it only really became popular in the 90’s it was allegedly invented by Freddie "Saddam" Maake back in the 60’s, by modifying a bicycle horn. He used this instrument at soccer games right through to the 90’s, even at the 1998 World Cup in France. It was at that time that they actually banned his instrument seeing as they considered it as a tool that could be used as a dangerous weapon seeing as it was made of tin. He didn’t give up at that point (and some wish he had) as he went on to try to get a less lethal plastic one manufactured. These plastic ones started cropping up within the last ten years.

Other people claim that it was used by African villagers to summon the others for a meeting – except they used one made out of a kudu horn – which some still use today. This is called a kuduzela by some.

Folklore tales say that the instrument is used to ward off baboons or other wild animals, and as far as soccer goes, it’s supposed to make the opposing team lose – probably due to lack of concentration. This theory goes right out the window when you take into account that SA and Mexico played to a draw of 1 - all the other day.

"As far as soccer goes, it’s supposed to make the opposing team lose – probably due to lack of concentration."

I was actually listening to some program on local TV the other night that talked about the fact that vuvuzelas are dangerous to your health for a few reasons. Why is this? Mainly because of the noise it makes. The sound of a Boeing 747 in flight is measured at about 125 db, whereas a vuvuzela is at 135 db! I’m not even joking here: all the people who go into the stadiums will sadly never leave the same person again. These things cause permanent deafness. I daw a joke in a cartoon the other day which had some tourist from Germany at the stadium, joyfully blowing his vuvuzela along with everyone else, and then in the next panel, he was using the same thing a day later as an ear trumpet!

Think about it: there you are in the stadium with two of these things blowing on either side of your head, and there are thousands in the stadium. You can’t hear the person next to you. Do you regret buying those tickets now?

The other reason it’s dangerous to your health is because if you’re the one blowing it, you might get a sore throat. Not just from blowing the thing however, seeing as it’s more like whistle than anything – you can keep going and not much will happen. Someone might shove it down your neck though.

But seriously it could give you a sore throat seeing as it’s more adept than most things at spreading germs – from both ends – especially if you share one with someone else.

And to elaborate on why it’s more like a whistle than a horn, is because not only can you keep going and not get a sore throat unlike if you were shouting, but it requires almost no skill at all. I’ve seen some people struggle to get the proper tune out, seeing as it apparently does need quite a bit of effort initially to muster up the air from your lungs. Apart from that, there’s no real tune that comes out. Some get creative and try to get a beat going, or butcher the national anthem with it, but apart from that people usually just blow it. It’s a sound; a racket; a terrible din. That’s all. There’s no scale or differing sound like one can make with a trumpet, a saxophone, a tuba, a flute, or any wind instrument. This just creates a lot of noise pollution.

So in short, any bafana banana can be an expert with it.

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In fact I’m convinced that it’s the devil’s instrument. The Christians have the Chauffeur horn which is supposed to be heard all the way down in hell, and the demons have the vuvuzela as some sort of an equal. Instead of a symbol of holiness, it’s a misery-making, tormenting, torturing device.

This might just be a coincidence, but earlier on in 2010, the Nazareth Baptist Church threatened to ban the vuvuzela from the 2010 World Cup, seeing as they claimed it belongs to their church. Maybe they think it really is the devil’s instrument and don’t want us all bringing about hell on earth or something. Conspiracy?

"There’s no real tune that comes out. Some get creative and try to get a beat going, or butcher the national anthem with it, but apart from that people usually just make a sound; a racket; a terrible din."

What to do if you don't like them

So what can you do if you’re at the stadium surrounded by these morons with their horns? Or what if you’re trying to take a nap in the afternoon and keep getting woken up by some idiot thinking he's a one-man-band trumpeting down the street?

Silence is golden

I heard some great advice on the TV the other day, and it makes perfect sense. Get some ear plugs. Seriously – think about it. You go to the soccer match to watch the game. Not necessarily to listen to it. If you just watch it with a pair of ear plugs, then that’s a little better isn’t it? I mean, when you’re sitting at home as well, you don’t have to listen to the commentary. You could put it on mute and just watch the TV, or lower the volume anyway.

Pray it gets banned

It happened with Freddie Maake years ago, and there have been several in favour, even in FIFA, of banning the instrument recently for various reasons, among which included using it as a weapon, placing unwanted advertising on them, causing major breaks in not only player concentration and communication (I’ve heard of at least one team that has asked that vuvuzelas be banned from the stadium when they play), and smuggling of food or other substances and so on into a game. Commentators also don’t approve of it seeing as it causes too much noise for them to even hear themselves speak. And even the SPCA are worried that the mass noise generated by them could petrify pets.

Hell there are even petitions online to have the thing banned. Many hate the thing more than I do.

It’s still legal for the moment, but there are restrictions, seeing as it may not be more than one metre in length.

Interestingly, the United Arab Emirates has issued a "fatwa" or religious edict, effectively banning vuvuzelas.

Call the police

No, really. The person using it is creating a public disturbance and noise pollution. During a match there might not be much you can do about it seeing as that would mean you’d have to lock up practically every fan in attendance.

But if someone is going around the neighbourhood blowing one, or doing it in their backyard, then find out who it is, and make the call. With some luck they might even confiscate the damn thing. I won’t hesitate to do it. Will you?

Get something louder or buy your own

It’s like the old saying: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. You could buy one and blow it yourself, but only in self-defence; otherwise you might be pegged as the violator. Just be prepared for war if you do fight back though – especially if they know where you live.

Vuvuzelas are banned in the vicinity of Woodbridge Island in Milnerton, CT.

Move to some place that doesn't have them

"Where?", you ask. Well, here in SA, there is one place I know of, and that is Woodbridge Island. Located in Milnerton, Vuvuzelas are banned in the vicinity of this place, and not only that, but any sort of World Cup celebrations are banned as well. And people who dare to break the rules are fined.

I saw it on the news the other night, and even though the reporter irked me with her comments about "not having any World Cup spirit", I think it's their right. If the owner says it isn't allowed, then you either comply, or move. Plenty of people are already considering booking a place there temporarily until the World Cup is over.

Use an equalizer on your TV set

This is for if you dread hearing that noise on the television while you're watching a match. There's a theory that you can effectively "switch off the sound" or at least turn it down a bit, so you can actually hear the game on the field and the commentators and so on. Some TV's have it built in, and others you have to plug in this DIY filter of sorts.

Apparently the vuvuzela's tone is Bb or Bflat, and has primary tones at 233Hz and secondary tones at 466Hz, 932Hz, and 1864Hz. The theory is that if you lower those bands to zero, and you can raise other up too, if you really want to get rid of the drone almost completely. And some say this works, too.

There's also software to use on your PC or Mac as well if you perhaps use a TV card with a PVR.

Sources and Resources

"Silence is more musical than any song."

— Christina Rossetti

© 2010 Anti-Valentine


Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on August 02, 2010:

That's something I remember reading about: that autistic children don't react well to loud noises. That's another concern right there. Interesting you brought it up.

talfonso from Tampa Bay, FL on August 01, 2010:

I don't like vuvuzelas - they ruin my eardrums! Oh, and if there's somebody whose child has autism, he will face a meltdown once someone blows it!

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on July 13, 2010:

Hi Marie. Thanks for the comments.

I see that the moderator, Maddie, allowed the link to this hub to be posted in the forum thread. Usually it gets snipped seeing as you're not allowed to do that most of the time. I suppose because it was on topic.

Oh well.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on July 12, 2010:

You sure did some homework! Thanks a lot! I share your disgust. If you don’t mind, I’m pasting the url of this page at the conversation going on. As well as the info you’ve provided ref. db’s. PS.: Nice to meet you, fellow-SA and writer.

md_azamkhan on June 17, 2010:

lets see

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on June 13, 2010:

Me too. A lot!

tantrum from Tropic of Capricorn on June 13, 2010:

LOL LOL LOL!! I hate that noise !! :)

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on June 13, 2010:

Wise choice suzie. ;)

I really just don't like them. And there are certainly others who don't either. Of course others love them...

suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on June 13, 2010:

Ha - I never heard of this instrument before. Maybe I don't want to either. Fun Hub.

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