A herd of trumpeting elephants. A hive full of angry, buzzing bees. A sheep on its way to slaughter.
All these descriptions and more have been used to describe the sound emitted from the vuvuzela, a South African type of trumpet made known worldwide as a result of its popularity during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The vuvuzela is a single piece of plastic shaped into a long, thin horn about 2-3 feet in length with a small bell at the end. It is blown in a similar manner as a trumpet, but most vuvuzelas produce only one note, usually a monotone sound approximately B flat below middle C. Most vuvuzelas are used by untrained sports spectators to create a loud, piercing sound designed to enhance the excitement of a soccer match. However, a professional instrumentalist can feasibly produce multiple tones or melodies on a vuvuzela. A vuvuzela orchestra was created in Cape Town in 2006. Its players utilize a specialized technique, similar to playing a didgeridoo, to plays songs that are melodic enough to be set to singing and dancing.
The history of the vuvuzela is somewhat disputed, although most historians agree that its original ancestor is the kudu horn, which is made from an antelope horn and has been known to be sounded to summon villagers to community meetings. Later versions have been crafted from tin or aluminum. In 2001, the manufacturer Masincedane Sport began producing vuvuzelas for sale at soccer stadiums.
Numerous health concerns have arisen as a result of the vuvuzela, most notably those related to the potential for severe hearing damage. In a stadium full of roaring vuvuzelas, the intensity of sound can reach that akin to a jet engine, putting spectators at significant risk. Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones have been recommended for individuals who will be exposed to a cacophony of vuvuzelas, and, as a result, South Africa experienced a shortage in earplugs during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Not only can the sound of multiple blasting vuvuzelas cause hearing damage, but the noise proved disruptive to coaches and players trying to coordinate and execute plays, as well as to broadcasters attempting to communicate above the drone and TV spectators and radio listeners trying to listen in to the broadcasts.
However, whether the vuvuzela is considered to be a nuisance or a symbol of national pride, either way, it has made its mark on the international community.