Multi South African Music Award (SAMA) winning singer / songwriter and poet Zahara – among SA’s hottest young talent of the moment – recently recorded a live DVD shot over two nights at Carnival City Big Top.

The show presentation, set, lighting and video concept was designed by Tim Dunn and full technical production – rigging, lighting, video, set and sound – supplied out of Gearhouse South Africa’s Johannesburg facility.

Dunn’s brief included having to fit several elements into the performance space including 20 members of the Soweto Gospel Choir, a nine-piece string section, a DJ, numerous dancers and an 11-piece backing band.

The design also had to maximise the relative tight available stage space and present an appropriate visual backdrop for Zahara’s distinctive music and style, which looked good both on camera for DVD director Paulo Areal and for the capacity live audiences.

Dunn created an iconic structural baobab tree as a scenic centrepiece with eight facets and featuring eight different lengthed strips (branches) of Lighthouse R16 LED video screen emanating from it each side. At 9.5 metres high, the tree only just fitted into the available headroom.

To ensure the branches and other elements of the tree – which also provide the major lighting positions – were in exactly the right places involved substantial bridling of points in the roof, which came down to the skills and experience of lead rigger Kendall Dixon.

They used 24 inverted motors for hanging the eight video branches alone – slightly staggered – which ended up with less than 30cm space between each one. In the process, they had to negotiate their way around the complex network of AC ducts in the roof to get drops correctly positioned.

Dixon and his team of seven also installed trussing for other lighting positions including over the audience and for the PA hangs – entailing 97 points in total – achieved in an intense 12-hour operation.

Dunn used about 150 moving lights across the rig, including several LED lightsources which he likes for many functional and imaginative reasons.

A mix of Robe ColorWash and ColorSpot 2500E ATs were utilised as the main moving and effects lights, with 48 Martin Professional MAC 101s hung beneath the “branch’ video panels.

Robe ROBIN 600 LED Washes were used for band and stage washes and MAC Auroras for audience lighting together with Robe REDWash 3192s for stage and auditorium.

The trusses were toned with 60 i-Pix Satellite LED “bricks’ and there were also 24 i-Pix BB4 LED blinders dotted around.
Dunn created special ambient video visual content using a lot of stills and masks to complement the lighting and add an extra dimension that really helped set the individual mood and tone for each song.

Using the tree for rigging much of the lighting made the focusing very dynamic and flexible, enabling Dunn to hit the multiple onstage positions with ease.

He also had a white back-cloth upstage which took light effectively and added depth to the overall picture, with the rest of the stage trimmed in black.

Dunn programmed both lighting and scenic video over a single night and operated the show from a grandMA full size console, which also ran the two MA VPU servers storing the video content. He went straight into the first show with no rehearsals or run throughs – nothing like a bit of pressure!

FOH sound engineer Andreas Furtner’s main challenges included ensuring that the stage noise – with lots of people, activity and open mics – was controllable through the mix.

They used wireless DPA cardioid headset mics for the choir and Countryman contact mics for the strings which reduced bleed of the onstage noise into these microphones considerably.

Some of the band and Zahara used Sennheiser IEMs further reducing the levels on stage. Zahara used a wired Sennheiser M2000 mic with a 965 capsule and Sennheiser supplied all the drum and backing vocal mics, which was organised through Barry Turner at Sennheiser SA.
The main PA system was L-Acoustics Kudo, eight speakers a side which is the venue’s in-house system, to which Gearhouse Audio added side/out hangs of six dv-DOSC a side plus another six single dv’s as front fills.

They boosted the house’s four L-Acoustics SB28 subs with another four of their own to ensure nice low end radiance throughout the venue.

The side fills comprised two ARCs cabinets a side each flown with an SB28 underneath, with a dv-DOSC for drum sub and 16 Clair Brothers 12AM wedges.

The L-Acoustics components were all powered by their own LA8 amplifiers and the Clair wedges by their proprietary units.
Both FOH and monitors were run from 96-channel DigiDesign Profile consoles, with a third stationed in GP Sound’s recording unit. Furtner mixed FOH, Gearhouse’s Kolofelo “Rasta’ Sewela was the monitor engineer and Richard Mitchell took care of the recording side.
The shows were an incredible success and hugely well received, and the DVD will add some serious profile to Zahara’s rapidly burgeoning career on the world stage.

By Louise Stickland

ProSystems magazine – 3rd Quarter 2012