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At World Cup matches, the majority of spectators seem to have no problem with the vuvuzela, including the many foreign fans who have joined South Africans in blowing the horns. The sound of vuvuzelas at stadiums is less of the monotone buzz heard on TV broadcasts and more distinct, with slightly separate tones. For tourists, the vuvuzela has become the ultimate souvenir of the tournament.
“I love the vuvuzela!” exclaimed Zaahir Chotta, 40, from Buenos Aires, before letting loose with a long blow on his plastic trumpet: “Hoooommmmmm!”
Chotta, who traveled to South Africa with a group of friends to follow Argentina's team at the tournament, says he will be transporting this South African soccer tradition to future matches in South America. “I’m bringing them to Brazil for the next World Cup,” he said.
“They’re amazing,” said Carlton Carter, 37, from New York. No, the noise doesn’t bother him, he said, and earplugs aren’t necessary. “It’s part of the celebration,” Carter said. “I’ll be bringing some back with me.”
The vuvuzelas have also been imported to baseball. The Florida Marlins handed out free vuvuzela-like horns to 15,000 fans for a game against the Tampa Bay Rays last week. “That was the worst handout or giveaway I’ve ever been a part of in baseball,” Dan Uggla, the Marlins second baseman, said afterward.
In China, where most vuvuzelas are manufactured, sales of the horns have been roaring, as they have been in the U.K. at a major supermarket chain. Downloads of vuvuzela applications have also been popular among the iPhone set, with nearly a dozen applications available online to simulate the sound of the horn — and annoy friends.
Experts have warned that the noise from a vuvuzela can cause permanent hearing damage, and that spectators should wear earplugs to protect themselves. But at stadiums, the noise isn’t as loud as you might expect — unless you are sitting directly in front of someone who is sounding a vuvuzela near your head, in which case it can be literally mind blowing.
While many South Africans have taken to blowing the vuvuzela with gusto, the horns are by no means universally loved in the country.
Before their association with soccer, vuvuzelas were part of the Nazareth Baptist Church, also known as Shembe, which for decades has used a holy horn as part of its religious ceremonies. The Shembe horn become associated with soccer starting in the 1990s, after a fan of top South African soccer club the Kaizer Chiefs was said to have visited the church and later made a plastic model of their metal trumpet, so that he could bring it into stadiums.
Church members had considered taking legal action to stop the vuvuzelas from being played during the World Cup. An agreement was recently reached between Masincedane Sport, the South African manufacturer that owns the trademark to the vuvuzela, and the church. The company has agreed to contribute to a fund to help vulnerable church members.
Another ancestor of the vuvuzela is said to be the kudu horn, a traditional instrument blown to call villagers together for meetings.
At a South Africa friendly match a few weeks ago, one foreign visitor who asked a group of young men behind her to quiet down with their vuvuzelas was swiftly reprimanded by other South Africans.
“You can’t ask them to do that,” one Afrikaans man interrupted. “It’s part of their culture.”
“Vuvuzelas are here to stay and will never be banned,” Rich Mkhondo, a spokesman for the World Cup local organizing committee, told reporters at Soccer City in Johannesburg. “As our guests please embrace our culture, please embrace the way we celebrate.”