What Is That Weird Hum During World Cup Games?

  • Share
  • Read Later

Eva-Lotta Jansson/Corbis

Is there something wrong with your television set, or has a swarm of angry bees invaded the World Cup pitch?

Neither — the strange noise you’re hearing during the World Cup games is the sound of thousands of vuvuzelas. But what, pray tell, is a vuvuzela?

(More from NewsFeed: Five Reasons It’s Time to Ban the Vuvuzelas.)

A vuvuzela is a long plastic horn popular with South African soccer fans, who blow them en masse during games. Played by producing a “raspberry” sound with your lips, the vuvuzelas’ noise has been compared to that of an elephant, a dying goat and (in the TIME office) a car going over rumble strips.

The horns first came into fashion in the mid-1990s, but their origin is unclear. Some say the vuvuzela is a descendant of the traditional kudu horn — though that seems apocryphal. One distributor claims that the instrument is a children’s toy from America. The horns even have their own Philo T. Farnsworth: Freddie Makke, a legendary supporter of South African club Kaizer Chiefs, who¬†claims that he invented an aluminum version in the late ’60s, then switched over to plastic after the originals were confused with weapons.

FIFA originally considered banning vuvuzelas in the run-up to the World Cup, after scientists warned of hearing damage among the spectators and both players and announcers expressed fears that they would be drowned out by the drone. South African officials eventually convinced FIFA to drop the proposed ban, arguing that vuvuzelas were an essential part of the South African soccer experience. (Vuvuzelas longer than 1 m remain off-limits.)