The Sound of Vuvuzelas

by Thomas Brett

I hate it when I go to a vuvuzela concert and then people start playing football!  It’s so annoying!” – YouTube viewer

In last month’s Wire magazine, Marcus Boon wrote a thoughtful end piece on the phenomenon of vuvuzelas at last summer’s World Cup in South Africa.  If you remember, vuvuzelas are those small plastic horns that many South African fans blew at the football matches, creating an unbelievably loud (around 120 decibels) and insistent communal drone buzz.  It was, as Boon points out, noise in the signal of the Word Cup TV broadcasts; television couldn’t filter out this insistent sound of the people just enjoying themselves.  And while here was much talk of banning vuvuzelas from the games, the sound of these instruments was also a reminder of the sonic power and affect of noise, as well as how drone can bring people together.  But what does the vuvuzela drone-noise signify exactly?  It’s hard to say.  Here’s is an extended excerpt from Boon’s take on the sound:

“I cam to think of it, perhaps naively, as the sound of the global South, the buzzing hive sound of the people of the world, contaminating the otherwise clean hyperspace of the globalised spectacle of soccer, now trademarked and sold to us by FIFA.  A reminder that (. . .) if you listen to the messages of global capital, they will always be accompanied by their subaltern support, the global multitude (. . .)

To me, it was also a reminder that drone music is not a technique invented by the minimalist avant gardes, but one of the sounds of the people, spanning a very broad historical and geographical continuum, from the bilbical horn that blew Jericho down to the sound OM that gave birth to the universe in the Hindu scriptures, on to all the various folk musics that rely on sustained tones.  Drone music is easily configured as a collective technique, if only because playing sustained tones together is a simple method of amplification in a non-electronic culture–for example, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, where monks blow massive mountain horns simultaneously to produce the raw blast of sound that invites the deities to the ritual.”

From YouTube, here is an informative video on the vuvuzela put together by Dr. Dan Russell, a physics professor at Kettering University: