Colombian singer and peace activist Juanes delivered a message of musical diplomacy to a massive crowd of 1.2 million Cubans in a day filled with a lineup of 17 global artists--from Olga TaÃ±Ã³n of Puerto Rico and Miguel Bosé of Spain. Revelers all dressed in white filled Havana's Plaza de la RevoluciÃ³n on September 20th, braving sweltering heat to experience the free "Peace without Borders" concert. Although the event drew criticism from Cuban exiles, music was the message and the concert was incident-free.
The overall production came together from a variety of global sources. Eighth Day Sound provided main PA (with pieces culled from recently ended Madonna and Lil Wayne tours), which included two 15-deep hangs of L-Acoustic V-DOSC line array, with three dV-DOSC enclosures underneath for the main hangs, two 9-deep sub hangs with d&b audiotechnik J-Subs, and another cluster of two 15 V-DOSC and three dV-DOSC boxes for side hangs. On the ground were 20 d&b B2 subs per side. In addition, four delay towers included eight d&b J8's each, complimented by six more delay tower positions with equipment supplemented by a local Cuban sound company. This local company brought in a Meyer MILO system comprised of 48 loudspeakers and 24 MILO HP subs onsite.
Madrid-based Fluge Sonido Profesional, who had worked with Juanes' previously on the Spain portion of his "Mi Sangre" tour in 2005, brought in all the supplemental monitors, mics/stands/splitters, and control systems including three DiGiCo consoles--a SD7 for FOH plus two D5's to handle monitors and the broadcast/recording feeds.
Planet Events, another Madrid-based promoter that had worked closely with Juanes on previous tours throughout Spain, handled the local production and backline.
Considering the complexity of the production, it all came off without a hitch, recalled long-time audio wiz and Juanes FOH engineer, Rob "Cubby" Colby. "Planning for the one-day event began last May with Juanes and (manager) Fernan Martinez flying to Washington and meeting with the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton to help arrange the visas. We all worked hard to get the licensing, and I, personally spent two days working with the U.S. licensing department--who didn't understand that the snakes we were bringing in weren't actually â€˜live'! They finally understood what we were actually bringing in!"
All the gear from 8th Day Sound congregated in Miami and was cross-loaded into containers that were shipped into Cuba. Simultaneously, Colby headed to Madrid to do rehearsals with the all-star band, comprised of members of Juanes' and Miguel Bosé bands, and then flew together with the entourage on a chartered plane with the entourage into Cuba a few days prior to the concert for setup. This was Colby's first outing with the DiGiCo SD7, though he'd had extensive experience working on a D5 on tours ranging from Shakira to Stevie Wonder.
"We did it really right," Colby adds. "Before the rehearsals, I got the SD7 offline editor and had Jason Kirschnick from 8th Day help me get started, and working with Miguel's monitor engineer Herman Cools and his FOH engineer , we assembled our whole input list, which was well over 100, before we even saw each other. I sent my show file to Fluge to be loaded into the console."
From a production standpoint, the show came together flawlessly over a two week period preceding the concert. "This was an optimistic adventure that went off without a hitch," mused Colby. "It couldn't have gone smoother, considering it was in a place that was so close to the U.S.--only 55 minutes from Miami by plane--yet so far away in terms of the politics and infrastructure. But we took our time and built the site incrementally. 8th Day system engineer Mark Brnich, fresh from Madonna's "Sticky & Sweet" tour, flew in Monday night (staying in the National Hotel where â€˜The Godfather' was filmed), positioning the generators and marking the scaffolding locations on Tues. Wednesday, all the scaffolding was built and erected in one day. Thursday, all the gear arrived in Cuba, offloaded and built into the site. I arrived on Thursday, and walked the site, which was perfect--from drawing to reality. Friday, I made sure everything was where it needed to be, tuned the system and delays, and working closely with Mark to align the PA. Saturday was spent soundchecking every band--from noon until 2:30 am--to everyone's delight as they didn't expect this to happen. We came back at noon on Sunday to the Plaza lot with 500,000 people and that was just the beginning! By the time the event ended and the next morning rolled around, you'd never have known that a million-plus people had been there."
"We were very impressed with the production staff that Colby assembled," adds Matt Larson, Pro Audio National Sales Manager for DiGiCo. "These were world-class guys from around the globe, who made certain that this very important event would go on without a hitch. And it did. Having 17 acts perform in the span of 5-1/2 hours with rapid changeovers, the longest being about 90 seconds, was remarkable."
The transition from mixing in the Madrid rehearsals on nearfield monitors to the stadium system was seamless, emphasized Colby. "Most of my changes came in the area of gains and dynamics and hardly any of the EQs. I really think that's a really good sign of the accuracy and quality and the sound of the desk. I don't personally spend a whole lot of time EQing CD music when I know I'm just going to end up with the system flat; I like the system to be as dynamic as possible, which is extremely helpful with this type of music--from salsa all the way to rock and acoustic stuff. The low-end control and the top-end was smoother and tighter and I found the system overall sounded really clean and very powerful."
For Colby, jumping from his trusty D5 to the SD7, gave him an increased palette of features to work with. "It was fantastic working on the console. The SD7 is very much like the D5, but with more bells and whistles. Having the mirrored image is great; saving on both engines gives you peace of mind. It was a really clean layout. The fact that I can move things around quickly and gang channels--all the things you can do on a D5 but a little more straightforward. I also love mixing on VCAs and the big helpful deal for me, especially with this big of a show, was having 36 VCA's and using 24 of them! It just made it absolutely super easy not to have to worry about layers of stuff. Also, the multiband compression and onboard effects were fantastic! I was using the high- and low-pass filters and multiband compression on some of the instrument inputs, which allowed me to leave those inputs flat. I like having the second function button to expose other types of input EQs and the Mach 2 upgrade also gives you more onboard effects options, dynamic EQ and multiband EQ and the DiGi-TuBe. There are probably way more things about the SD7 that are not as visible, but that are there at your disposal."
Other event feeds encompassed 11 outputs for left/right to video, left/right to TV audio, and the rest were all PA feeds including left/right main, outfill, 2 sub auxes and delays, and Cuban delays. "These were all handled by a Dolby Lake Processor," said Colby. "I gave Mark my left and right from the matrix and he split it to all the various places it had to go. I always put graphics on my L/R on the console in case I have to grab something quickly, but I never touched it. Also, I have graphics on the subs and do my own little â€˜Colby' contour in the bottom 30 and 100hz to create my own sub-base, low-end contour."
Fluge's Marc Llopis, a savvy tech with extensive experience working on DiGiCo D1s and D5s, assisted Colby and was also impressed with the power and possibilities under the SD7's proverbial hood. "There are a lot of things that I love about the SD7 including all the options available in the channels and busses. It's amazing that there's no rival to that part of the console. The routing is easy as is the setup of FX in the output of busses; the multiband EQ on each channel is a very powerful tool; the ripple function saves a lot of time in routing and in the setup of a session; the scope for snapshots is very complete; and I love the automatic â€˜socket file'. Also using the video screens as meters gives clean information every time. But one thing that I was amazed with on this gig was that the major part of the channels were flat in the EQ. Cubby was using almost only high-pass and dynamic filters, and while that doesn't seems very impressive, I think that gave us two good factors: the PA was properly equalized because Cubby kept almost everything from the rehearsals, and the preamp and the processing of the SD7 worked really well and sounded great because there wasn't any "strange EQs". The most remarkable detail in the mix was the use of the multiband compressor in the acoustic guitars. It was very accurate in the quiet as well as higher frequency levels.
"I wanted to spend more time trying out the dynamic EQ," he continues. "The soundchecks were very short and there was no time for details, but I'm expecting to have the SD8 in my hands that I recently bought to experiment with, and to use for mixing monitors on a tour with Quique Gonzalez that is starting in a month. The PA mixer, Angel Medina, also bought another one, and I think this will be a great year with good sensations in our mix thanks to DiGiCo!"
On monitors was Herman Cools, who had worked with Miguel Bosé for 10 years. Handling approximately 100 stage inputs he mixed monitor feeds for the majority of the acts, with the exception of Olga TaÃ±on and Los Van Van, who brought in their own crew.
"I used the D5 in total recall mode," Cools explained, "everything from gains to routing was recalled each time another artist showed up on stage. This way I could handle more input channels without having them routed all the time to the mixing channels of the desk, as it only had 96 mixing channels with all processors and effects activated. Working on the D5 is like mixing on an analogue desk with all the advantages of a digital desk. DiGiCo's are the most logical digital desks I know. I've been using Midas for a long time, but in the last 5 years I've done all my tours--Alejandro Sanz, Ana Toroja, and Miguel Bosé--with the D5. The fact that everything is built into the desk makes it such a nicer tool than its analogue brothers. The sound is a bit different on the D5 than on a H3000, but you have all these compressors, gates and effects in the desk, and a total recall of all functions in a split second. Imagine doing this kind of event again on an analogue desk! Writing down all settings on a piece of paper! With the D5, and all the newer consoles in the family, DiGiCo again pushes quality and functionality to the limit. They're simply amazing sounding tools and easy to operate."
"I'd like to thank many of the people who were involved," said Llopez. "Matt Larson (from Digico US), Fernando Delgado (from DiGiCo Spain) and Mark Brnich (from 8th Day), for their help and support of this show. It was a historic moment, the first time that Cuba opened its border for a show like this, and to an outside production company for the purpose of the festival that was in essence a peace party. It was amazing to look in every direction and see a million Cubans dancing and singing."
"These people have never experienced that kind of technology in Cuba," concurred Colby. "It was 100 degrees at the console for 3 days in a row, 12 hours a day, and I loved every minute of it! The success of this event was not about Juanes, but about the Cuban people--1.2 million of them--coming together peacefully in a plaza. I have to say, it has been a great journey with Juanes, and I really appreciate his and Fernan's efforts. These guys are very hands on and really care about audio. For them to recognize that, and to bring in a touring PA rather than taking the easy way out and find whomever, whatever was closest by… that means a lot to me."