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Mighty Vuvuzela

Joe Opio/ Twenty Ten

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

The origin of the notorious vuvuzela.

Associated Features: Vuvuzela Day (Photo feature), Vuvuzela takes on the World (Text feature), Vuvuzelas with a difference (Photo feature about seaweed vuvuzelas) and Vuvuzela Orchestra (Audio feature)

Since it blasted its way into global notoriety, no instrument has polarized opinion with similar ease. And for fans and critics alike, it should seem rather fitting that even the very origins of this international tool of mischief are mired by dispute.

Reputed to generate up to 144 decibels, which is louder than a jet plane taking off or even an amplifier at a rock concert, the vuvuzela’s ear-splitting rasp might nevertheless be eclipsed by the raging row over its true origins. It’s a row that at one point even threatened to go before a judge.

Called a “lepatata” in its native Tswana, dispute over the vuvuzela’s genesis turned litigious the moment Masincedane Sport trademarked the name in 1999. The firm was perhaps the first to realize the commercial potential of the trumpet, but, as it was soon to discover, a certain church was about to press its own claims for copyright.

The Shembe, also known as the Nazareth Baptist Church, is a native church is South Africa that has grown into a regional powerhouse with over four million followers. The congregation revere their leader as an African Messiah with direct access to God, and, since its inception 100 years ago, the church has always used an air-horn as a...

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