The Sound that Rocked the World

It starts as a lone moan into the crisp winter air of a Johannesburg morning, but it is soon answered by another, and another, until the moans become a proud roar that encompasses the entire city. It was the 9th of June 2010 official Vuvuzela Day in South Africa, and at twelve p.m. everyone who owned one blew one, country-wide.

Back in 1965, an innovative South African soccer fan Freddie “Saddam” Maake, pulled off the rubber part of a bicycle horn and took it to a soccer match. There he blew away on it during the game but was unsatisfied with the sound it produced. So he took to his workshop created a new aluminium version, extending the horn to a meter long and adding a mouth-piece. This horn he took to the next game and was satisfied with the sound it produced, a fitting sound, which matched his enthusiasm for the game. For the next 33 years Maake was never without his horn, until it was banned from matches for being conceived as a dangerous metal weapon. This made him turn to manufacturing it out of plastic and three years later in 2001 it was rolled off an assembly line, mass produced first by Peter Rice and then by Neil van Schalkwyk at Masincedane Sport in South Africa. Thus began the life of this horn in a big way, and shortly thereafter it was named the Vuvuzlea, meaning in Zulu ‘to make a vuvu sound’. Quickly adopted en-mass by soccer fans in South Africa it became a signature sound at local games and world-wide when South Africans were present.

This brings us to 2010, and South Africa hosting the FIFA World Cup. There were many detractors, from within and outside South Africa, as to whether they could indeed properly host the cup, upon winning host rights in 2004. As the time grew near it seemed the more loudly the detractors protested especially within South Africa. However, in the final months leading up to the event an occurrence took place that changed everything, and it was due to the Vuvuzela. Up until the world cup the Vuvuzela had remained strictly in the province of ardent soccer fans, but be it a flush of national pride or being swept up in the excitement of hosting a world cup, this was no longer the case. The Vuvuzela and its unique sound began to spread across the country culminating in Vuvuzela Day which blew the lid off totally. In a matter of days exponentially country-wide, suddenly and literally, everyone and their uncle had a Vuvuzela and were blowing away on it to their hearts content, whether there was a game on or not.

This sound, this ‘vuvu-ing’, could be heard all over the country, and it led to something that had not occurred since the Rugby World Cup and South African victory in 1995. Namely, a visible, and certainly audible, united front regardless of race, tribe or age, but on a far larger scale than ’95. Walking down the streets of Johannesburg, everyone was greeting everyone with smiles, nods, and of course friendly blasts of their Vuvuzela’s. Flags waved from nearly every car, accompanied by hooting and passenger’s vuvu-ing, as though everyday was a celebration of life and being South African. There was a distinct and palpable excitement and feeling of being in it together whatever the outcome. Whether you loved or hated it the Vuvuzela defined the 2010 World Cup. As soon as you walked into one of the stadiums, or turned on the TV, you were greeted with its unique sound issuing from thousands of Vuvuzela’s. In this simple but incredibly effective way South Africa placed an original stamp upon the World Cup, and in so doing have present a united front to the world at large, which has for the most part readily embraced South Africa and the Vuvuzela too.

In today’s world of force-fed consumerism, with every marketing team on Earth trying to come up with a strategy that will set their brands/countries/etc. apart and make them trend socially, this is no mean feat. Added to the fact that it comes from no marketing team, and can all be attributed to one South African soccer fan’s desire to make a sound that matched his enthusiasm back in 1965, is nothing short of miraculous. So I say viva the Vuvuzela and Freddie “Saddam” Maake, long may fans the world over enjoy the satisfaction of making your enthusiasm heard.