Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sound of the Year: 2010 – The Vuvuzela

In the June 29th entry to his blog, Afrika Aphukira, Malawian writer Steve Sharra provides interesting sociological insight into Africa's football culture, and more specifically, the regional relevance now afforded Ghana, given their triumphant performance at the 2010 World Cup.

But for me –a music theorist living on the edge of America– the most thought provoking part of the piece is when Sharra indicates that the sound rising up from Royal Bafokeng Stadium might actually be more than just the usual crowd applause. A victory cheer was certainly in order: Ghana's national soccer team defeated the US contingent only three days before Sharra published his article. But perhaps this noisy, euphoric sound, he suggests, also represents a fanfare for a new African century.

Shara writes:

The more compelling story worth telling about the global tournament in South Africa this year has two sides to it. First is the story of what Ghana’s triumph symbolizes, at the center of which symbolism is Africa’s past and future. This symbolism is embodied in the vuvuzela, the cheering trumpet. Riding on the success of Ghana is also the story of how the 2010 World Cup has thus far proved wrong most of its critics, detractors, pessimists and doubting Thomases. The vuvuzela, much like Ghana’s Black Stars, has beaten odds to become more than a cheering instrument. It has now attained the status of an African metaphor for the unacknowledged ways in which Africa determines particular discourses at the global level. There are three narratives intertwined here. First, Ghana is carrying the hopes of the continent, and the larger Pan-African world. Second, this tournament has been remarkable for the bigger presence of players of African descent in many of the teams, especially those from Europe and Latin America. Third, the phenomenon that has become the vuvuzela takes on a significance that elevates the symbolization of Ghana’s performance thus far, as well as the widespread presence of African influence in the ancestry of the players on the field."

Then Shara points us to the June 24th Mail & Guardian Online’s Thought Leader blog, where Sarah Britten quotes The Financial Times' Peter Aspden as saying (of the vuvuzela):

“It is a joyous, life-affirming sound, of a nation entranced in pride and celebration, and expressing it through its own culture.”

That is, however, an observation that actually falls short of Shara's premise, because suddenly we realize that the vuvuzela is no longer merely the sound of 'its own culture'. To be precise, the vuvuzela's caterwauling wail has achieved nothing less than transcended culture and even transcended soccer to become the sound that defines our times.

Of course, it might be that the vuvuzela was simply the loudest (or most annoying) sound of 2010. I understand that comment, but I still think it the most significant sound of 2010.

Beating out pop songs, jingles and a seemingly infinite ensemble of machine made voices: What other sound was bigger, brasher, more memorable or more memetic? And what other sonic branding mnemonic has ever proved more easily capable of representing all these things: 1) a major multinational sporting event, 2) the sport itself and 3) both the country and the continent that hosted said sport's biggest game in the last four years?

And that's why I nominate The Vuvuzela as The Sound of the Year.

Not to mention that what the vuvuzela has come to represent is not simply a single moment in sports history, but also a moment in our collective global history. And this moment sings out with a distinctive, jubilant and multinational voice.

Did you ever ask yourself if music was powerful enough to unite the world? Well, it is, provided one sings one's chorale (or blows a horn) around a football pitch.

I have thought often whether a narrative history of the world could be written from the perspective of one one era-defining sonic moment to the next. And as of this very moment, I'm absolutely certain that it could.


To read The Vuvuzelization of world football: Ghana & the real story of SA2010 and other thought provoking pieces by Mr. Sharra, click the link.

Photo Credit: Image by Caldwella, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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The Critical Noise Sound of the Year goes to that sound source, event, entity, happening or concept which so effectively produces wide response and reaction, whether intentional or not, such that it stirs collective emotion, inspires discussion, incites action, or otherwise lends itself to cultural analysis and resonates across the globe.

Prior Sound of the Year winners include Auto-Tune (2009), The Housing Implosion (2008) and Mother Nature's Howl (2005)

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