The 2010 World Cup is well under way and I am reminded of attending a game with my father in 1994. Sitting in a section of fans of the Italian team, we had a percussion instrument — I wish I could find its name but I have been unable to do so thusfar. It consisted of a couple of wooden mallets with cymbals on them that swung into a central mallet by shaking it. Plenty of people in the Italy section had them and we would yell and shake them hard, making a lot of noise.

This time around, plenty of World Cup fans all seem to be equipped with one musical instrument — if you can call it music. If you haven’t seen it in the news at all, please allow me the pleasure of introducing you to the vuvuzela.

The reason I question whether one can call it music is because the horn emits a sort of a droning B Flat. Some people have compared it to the buzzing of bees. It has gotten to the extent that someone even has come up with a software filter to get rid of the sound.

From German blog Surfpoeten comes a DIY solution for home Cup-watchers driven to distraction by the stadium horns: a software filter that selectively mutes the particular frequency of the vuvuzela. The horn drones, apparently, at 233 Hz, with harmonic overtones at 466 Hz, 932 Hz, and 1864 Hz.

For UK football fans, the BBC is considering getting rid of the sound while it is broadcasting. In South Africa, however, they are looked upon more favorably.

Spokesman Rich Mkhondo said: ‘Vuvuzelas are here to stay and will never be banned. Look at them as part of our culture in South Africa to celebrate the 2010 FIFA World Cup.’ He said the noise is part of the fabric of football in Africa, similar to English rattles, the football flares of Italy, the air horns of Holland and the ticker tape that greets teams in South America.

I suppose the difference between noise and music is the status of your cultural upbringing. I can’t say I’m a fan of the vuvuzela, but I appreciate what the sound means to the people who celebrate with them.


  1. It’s definitely an interesting sound, Gordon. I know ESPN is also working hard to electronically filter out the vuvuzelas from their broadcasts. I wonder how South Africans would feel if everyone in the stadium were playing trumpets — each one out of tune and each person tooting a different song. It would quickly sound like noise meant to irritate and not support the team. If you want to make a noise at a sporting event, each “instrument” should sound the same. Being able to vary the pitch and tone of the device from a simple droning is what makes the vuvuzelas so unpredictable to the ear and wholesomely annoying to the experience.

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