Saturday, 8 May 2010

Magnificent King Shaka and the dreaded Vuvuzela... today's offerings from the World Cup's energetic forerunner, Indaba 201

DURBAN. Land of sugar cane and sweet surf. Where KwaZulu, India and Europe merge into a heady mixture, often featuring curry, biltong and beer. And you never have to wear a jacket.

Here, mad Englishmen can swim in the mid-winter sun. It's like Bournemouth in a heatwave today, and we're deep into autumn in the southern hemisphere. Soon, in their glorious new Moses Mabhida Stadium, Germany will play Australia, Nigeria face Korea, Holland take on Japan and, in the pick of the qualifying games, Portugal face Brazil on June 25.

They have a quarter-final and a semi-final lined up at the magnificent arched arena. But for now you can take a sky-cab on the arch over the 70,000-seat stadium, or bungy jump off it. Alternatively, you can wander down the walkway to Battery Beach.

I'm just off to watch the local rugby side, the Sharks, take on the powerful Stormers from Cape Town at Kings Park with former Springbok captain Bobby Skinstad. Expect curry, biltong and beer in a city of many cultures which would make an ideal Olympic Venue.

In one square mile, they offer a 65,000-seat rugby stadium slap bang next to the brand new football facility, a Test match cricket ground at Kingsmead, a velodrome and an Olympic pool and athletics track. The Indian Ocean isn't bad for the boat-bound events either.

But I digress. This morning, I expected to be flown in to their shabby old airport south of the city just beyond industrial Umbilo. But no. Overnight on May 1, with impeccable pre-World Cup timing, the £73m King Shaka airport opened to traffic.

And what a difference it is, arriving in Durban amid the sugar cane fields, entering the city from the green north rather than the smoggy south.

The place is elegant, huge... and was opened by President Jacob Zuma an hour after I flew in. By then, I was at the Exhibition Centre in Durban. I've stayed next to it at the Hilton Hotel on numerous cricket tours but never really been in.

Today, we're waiting for the President to pop in from his airport duties and open Indaba 2010, a massive pre-World Cup conference. Then it's off to the rugby.

For those who don't think South Africa will be ready, have a look at (I'm hoping somebody will turn that into a video link!) and have a squint... listen to the views of the local populace too. They love their football around these parts... but sadly Amazulu, the local team, never quite comes up with the goods, despite the fictional account in my novel A GAME APART!

Today was going so well until I was ambushed by South Africa's secret World Cup weapon at Indaba 2010. The dreaded Vuvuzela wielded by several rather large ladies in football kit. It sounds like an elephant and doesn't float like a bee, this Vuvuzela.

A music professor in Cape Town called Pedro Espi-Sanchis reckons the great plastic horn, on sale everywhere here, could fit into an orchestra as easily as a flute, violin or cello.

Espi-Sanchis says the Vuvuzela is a "proudly South African instrument" with roots deep in local traditional music. Apparently it's related to the Kudu horn, the curly-wurly antlers of one of the largest local antelope. He was introduced to it over 30 years ago by "renowned South African ethnomusicologist Andrew Tracey".

Something of a football fan, Espi-Sanchis insists: "I heard the Vuvuzelas at soccer games and the sound was not musical at all. Vuvuzelas need to play rhythms together to really show their power."

Clearly the man is mad. These aren't instruments they are cheap party tricks. They should have a ribbon on the end which blows when you puff. Look at Enough said. Around the world, televisions will explode to the noise of the Vuvuzela on June 11. Mark my words. Watch the video. Don't try this at home. You have been warned.

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