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Vuvuzelas: Culturally Significant Or Downright Obnoxious?

by John Asante
Jun 9, 2010

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Have you ever heard the sound of a swarm of bees, a trumpet blaring, or the alpenhorn used in those Ricola commercials? How about all of them at the same time? No? Behold — the vuvuzela. If you don't believe me, give this virtual one a toot. Or you can refer to the video above.

In a matter of days, this roughly three-foot long South African instrument made of plastic will be heard (and blown) by fans across the globe as 32 teams compete in the World Cup. It's the first time the tournament will take place in an African nation, and I for one am jealous of my two friends lucky enough to be there for a few weeks. Although I will be patiently waiting to hear their stories of cheering with the locals, it's the vuvuzelas I really want to hear about.

For an event that brings together millions of people in a sea of colors and fanfare, vuvuzelas are causing a rift in the football community. Coaches and players find it even harder to communicate at field level, TV broadcasters are overwhelmed, and others claim that the horn providing that monotonous B-flat sound might even be a health hazard. But FIFA president Sepp Blatter opposes a ban on vuvuzelas, saying that "we should not try to Europeanise an African World Cup." Goal.com also says that he told reporters:

"It is African culture, we are in Africa and we have to allow them to practice their culture as much as they want to. ... Vuvuzelas, drums and singing are part of African football culture. It is part of their celebration, it is part of their culture. ... In South Africa, the vuvuzela is the main instrument of self expression, it is just that overseas countries do not use it."

While yelling into megaphones and clapping thundersticks may be more of an American tradition, the debate over the amount of noise that fans can create before it becomes a distraction is most definitely a worldwide topic. For anyone who's played a sport recreationally or at a professional level, the slightest yelp can easily throw an athlete off their A-game. And some spectators are in favor of doing away with the horns.

Mondli Makhanya, former editor-in-chief of the Johannesburg Sunday Times, misses the good ol' days, where the art of song and chat could be heard in the streets and stadiums:

What the vuvuzela has done to our football is to take away the spontaneity of song. Soccer fans do not compose new songs any more. The tribal chants that you hear at great soccer cathedrals such as White Hart Lane and the Santiago Bernabeu are rarely heard in our soccer grounds these days. Except for the Bloemfontein Celtic support base, the music in South African stadiums has been drowned by the dreadful instrument.

What do you think? Should instruments like the vuvuzela be banned during the World Cup? Are they an integral part of the South African football culture?

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