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Vuvuzela: South African soccer's beautiful noise

June 16, 2010

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What's plastic, a meter long, brightly colored and sounds like an elephant? It's the vuvuzela, the noise-making trumpet of South African soccer fans, and it's come to symbolize the sport in the country.


Swarming Sound

Sure, the vuvuzela's an instrument, but it's not always a musical one. Describing the atmosphere in a stadium packed with thousands of fans blowing their vuvuzelas is tough. Up close it sound like an elephant; but when thousands of them are blown together, the sound is more like a huge swarm of angry bees.


To get that sound out requires lip flexibility and lung strength. So be sure to get in some practice before heading to a South African soccer match, or you the sound you produce may cause some amusement in the seats around you! Here's how to use a vuvuzela properly:

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

    Grandpa Kudu Horn

    The ancestor of the vuvuzela is said to be the kudu horn, which is blown to summon African villagers to meetings. Later versions were made of tin and taken to soccer matches in the late 1990s. They became so popular, a company called Masincedane Sport started mass-producing them. Made of plastic, they come in a variety of colors so that different soccer teams can be represented in style. Each vuvuzela comes with little drawings on the side warning against blowing in the ear!


    As for the word vuvuzela, no one's 100% sure where it originated. Some say it comes from isiZulu for - wait for it - "making noise." Others say it's from township slang related to the word "shower," either because it "showers people with music" or because it looks kinda like a shower head.


    World Cup

    When the announcement was made on May 15, 2004, that South Africa would host the 2010 Fifa World Cup, vuvuzela sales skyrocketed. About 20,000 were sold on that very day by street vendors. And now, during the soccer games, you can hear the vuvuzelas buzzing in the background at all times, even if you're watching on TV!


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