The vuvuzela (English pronunciation: /vuːvuːˈzeɪlə/), sometimes called a “lepatata” (its Tswana name) or a stadium horn, is a blowing horn up to approximately 65 cm (2 ft) in length. It is commonly blown by fans at association football matches in South Africa. The instrument is played using a simple brass instrument technique of blowing through compressed lips to create a buzz, and emits (from the standard shorter horn of about 60 to 65 centimetres (24 to 26 in)) a loud monotone (B♭3). A similar instrument (known in spanish as corneta) is used by football fans in Brazil and other Latin American countries.
Vuvuzelas have been controversial. They have been associated with permanent noise-induced hearing loss and cited as a possible safety risk when spectators cannot hear evacuation announcements, and they may spread colds and flu viruses on a greater scale than coughing or shouting. Vuvuzelas have also been blamed for drowning the sound and atmosphere of football games. Commentators have described the sound as “annoying” and “satanic” and compared it with “a stampede of noisy elephants”, “a deafening swarm of locusts”, “a goat on the way to slaughter”, and “a giant hive full of very angry bees”.
The sound level of the instrument has been measured at 127 decibels contributing to football matches with dangerously high sound pressure levels for unprotected ears. A new model, however, announced on 14 June 2010, has a modified mouthpiece which is claimed to reduce the volume by 20 dB.
This type of plastic horn or trumpet has been used in Mexican stadiums since the 1970s. Originally made out of tin, the vuvuzela became popular in South Africa in the 1990s. Well-known Kaizer Chiefs F.C. fan Freddie “Saddam” Maake claims to have invented the vuvuzela by adapting an aluminium version as early as 1965 from a bicycle horn after removing the black rubber to blow with his mouth. He later found it to be too short and joined a pipe to make it longer. Maake has photos of himself in the 1970s and 1980s at local South African games and international games in 1992 and 1996 and at the 1998 World Cup in France, holding the aluminium vuvuzela. He says the instrument was banned as authorities ruled it a dangerous weapon, which prompted him to find a plastics company that could manufacture it.
Plastic trumpets similar to the South African vuvuzelas became popular as early as 1978 in Argentina, during the FIFA World Cup that took place that year in Argentina. Since then, they were adopted by local soccer supporters in Argentina.
In 2001, South Africa-based company Masincedane Sport began to mass-produce a plastic version. Neil van Schalkwyk, the co-owner of Masincedane Sport, won the SAB KickStart Award in 2001.
Vuvuzelas have been said to be based on kudu horn instruments and thus rooted in African history, but this is disputed. During the entire match, supporters blow vuvuzelas frantically in an attempt to “kill off” their opponents.
Origin of the term
The origin of the name vuvuzela is disputed. It may have originated from Zulu for “making a vuvu noise,” directly translated “vuvu-ing” because of the “vuvu” sound it makes, or from township slang related to the word for “shower”.
In early 2010 members of the Nazareth Baptist Church claimed that the vuvuzela belonged to their church, and threatened to pursue legal action to stop fans playing the vuvuzela at the World Cup.
Use at international tournaments
The vuvuzela was brought to international attention during the run-up to the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup, both hosted in South Africa. In 2005, prominent South African columnist and former sportswriter, Jon Qwelane, described the vuvuzela as “an instrument from hell” that had caused him to abandon watching live games, and urged that it be banned before the 2010 World Cup. The world football governing body, FIFA, expressed concerns that hooligans could use the instrument as a weapon and that businesses could place advertisements on vuvuzelas, in violation of FIFA regulations.
In July 2008, FIFA ruled that vuvuzelas would be allowed at the Confederations Cup, after the South African Football Association (SAFA) made the case that vuvuzelas were essential to an authentic South African football experience. FIFA President Sepp Blatter was opposed to banning the instrument, saying, “we should not try to Europeanise an African World Cup.”
2009 FIFA Confederations Cup
Prior to the start of the Confederations Cup, Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk and Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso called for a ban, with Alonso saying that the horns make it hard for players to communicate and concentrate while adding nothing to the atmosphere.
During the Cup, some football commentators, players, and international audiences argued against the use of the vuvuzela by fans. During the match between United States and Italy, BBC Sport commentator Lee Dixon referred to the sounds as “quite irritating”. After the Cup, FIFA received complaints from multiple European broadcasters who wanted it banned for the 2010 FIFA World Cup because the sound drowned out the voices of the commentators. Despite the protests, FIFA decided that the instrument would be allowed at the World Cup the following year, albeit only instruments shorter than one metre in length.
2010 FIFA World Cup
South African fan blowing a vuvuzela at the final draw for the 2010 World CupAs part of its marketing campaign for the World Cup, Korean automaker Hyundai and a local South African advertising agency called Jupiter Drawing Room created the largest working vuvuzela in the world—114 feet (35 m) long—on an unfinished flyover road in Cape Town. The giant vuvuzela is powered by several air horns attached at the “mouthpiece” end, and it will be blown at the beginning of each of the World Cup matches.
During the opening ceremony the announcer had to ask fans using vuvuzelas to be quiet as he could not be heard.
On 13 June 2010, the BBC reported that the South African organising chief Danny Jordaan was considering a ban of the vuvuzela during matches. Jordaan noted that “if there are grounds to do so, yes [they will be gotten rid of]” and that “if any land on the pitch in anger we will take action.” On 15 June, it was reported that 545 complaints had been made to the BBC concerning the noise being made by vuvuzelas during coverage. BBC is reportedly considering an alternate broadcast stream that filters out the ambient noise while maintaining game commentary.  During the event many competitors have criticised and complained about the noise caused by the vuvuzela horns, including France’s Patrice Evra who blamed the horns for the team’s poor performance. He also claimed that the sound of the vuvuzelas away from the stadiums hampered the ability of the players to get their rest. Other critics include Lionel Messi who complained that the sound of the vuvuzelas hampered communication among players on the pitch, and broadcasting companies, who complained that commentators’ voices were being drowned out by the sound. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo went on record to state that the sound of the vuvuzelas disturbed the teams’ concentration.
Others watching on television have complained that the ambient audio feed from the stadium only contains the sounds of the vuvuzelas and the natural sounds of people in the stands are drowned out. A spokesperson for the ESPN network said it was taking steps to minimize the noise of the vuvuzelas on its broadcasts. There are some that see their use during the performance of the national anthems as disrespectful. Other critics have also noted that it is seen as disrespectful to be “dismissive of the cultures of the guest team supporters”. The World Cup organizing committee chairman, Danny Jordaan, said on 14 June 2010 “the vuvuzelas are being evaluated on an ongoing basis and that a ban is an option if there are grounds to do so.”
Some plastic vuvuzelas carry a safety warning graphic.Vuvuzelas have also been blown outside of matches, leading to a ban by some shopping centres. Some World Cup football players complained that they were being awoken in their hotel rooms by the instruments. Demand for earplugs to protect from hearing loss during the World Cup outstripped supply, with many pharmacies running out of stock. Neil van Schalkwyk, manufacturer of the plastic vuvuzela, began selling earplugs to fans.
A German sound engineer has offered for sale 45-minute MP3 downloads which, it is claimed, will cancel out the noise of the vuvuzelas during broadcast television matches by means of “active noise control”. Scientific commentators have expressed scepticism about the possibility of this being effective.
The instrument produces notes around the 235Hz (mostly) and 465Hz frequencies and filtering these frequencies out might limit the noise in broadcasts.
Some commentators have defended the vuvuzela as being an integral and unique part of South African football culture and say it adds to the atmosphere of the game. BBC sports commentator Farayi Mungazi said the sound of the horn was the “recognised sound of football in South Africa” and is “absolutely essential for an authentic South African footballing experience”. He also said there was no point in taking the world cup to Africa and then “trying to give it a European feel”. The Daily Telegraph’s chief sports reporter Paul Kelso described critics of the vuvuzela as “killjoys” and said they should “stop moaning”.
In response to criticism of the horn’s use, President of FIFA Sepp Blatter commented, “I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound. I don’t see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?”