For the 2010 FIFA World Cup, it seems like everyone in South Africa and their brother were given vuvuzelas, those cheap plastic horns that can deafen stadia and spark a global outcry. Across the globe, there have been stories decrying the constant use of the horns during games. Broadcasters have tried to filter out the buzzing horns and clever software programmers have started pitching apps geared to minimize the vuvuzelas’ droning din.
The whole thing is a hoot to me because I’ve owned a similar plastic horn for more than 15 years, way before I knew they were called vuvuzelas and before they became a controversy. (Interestingly enough, the vuvuzelas were an issue during the lead up to the event exactly a year ago.)
I bought my plastic instrument (pictured at top) as a souvenir during the 1995 Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena. I had finished marching with the Poway High Emerald Brigade and I wanted something to help commemorate the event. If memory serves me, I purchased the trinket from a vendor’s cart for $4 or $5.
During my years with the UC San Diego Pep Band, I dubbed the instrument the “Horn of Victory” and brought it to many sporting events. The horn’s blue color was a good match for UCSD’s blue and gold.
While World Cup vuvuzela performers appear willing to toot their horns for the entire duration of a 90-minute match, I’ve tried to be more discreet. I tried to sound the horn only in moments of triumph — including scores and ultimate victory. I avoided the horn during gameplay (done in part because the NCAA had rules against “artificial noisemakers” while there is action on the field).
Despite my relative constraint, I’ve had to cope with accusations that the horn is annoying even as a lone performer. It has “disappeared” from time to time when a colleague hid it during a game. This week, someone wanted to actually use the horn as a beer bong — an idea I strongly discouraged for health reasons.
For whatever downsides the vuvuzela has, it has a remarkable power. Its sonorous notes can reverberate through arenas. Critics have decried the horns’ overwhelming use in South Africa, but the vuvuzela can be a powerful accompanist during celebrations. As the clock turned midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, I sounded the horn and joined the clatter of banging pots and pans in my neighborhood to greet the start of a new century.
The vuvuzela also causes a sincere ruckus, especially compared to airhorns and their artificial wails. The noise from the horn is drawn from the core of the performer, not from a can of compressed air or some electronic gizmo.
The vuvuzela is egalitarian — anyone who can purse their lips and forcefully exhale can use one. This openness has thrown me off a couple of times — during one of UC Davis’ Picnic Day parades, I was thrown off by what I thought was a blaring trombone only to realize it was a child along the route joyously playing along with the music on his vuvuzela.
While acknowledging that some teams have said that vuvuzela performances have led to on-field communication confusion, I don’t think their use should be discouraged. Fans should be allowed to express themselves as long as it doesn’t
cause physical harm to others or prevent others from witnessing the
Football has a rich and mostly proud tradition of fan participation. The vuvuzela is merely one of the latest in a long line of customs. Long may the vuvuzela buzz.