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CfaN in Lagos: "Miraculous" Sound for the Millions
After devoting nearly a year to intensive preparations and widespread publicity, organizers of the Christ for all Nations (CfaN) Millennium Crusade expected a sizeable turnout for their six-night campaign last November near Lagos, Nigeria. But the swelling sea of humanity that repeatedly flooded the sprawling site exceeded even their most optimistic expectations, building from 500,000 on the first night to an estimated 1.6 million for the closing night's celebrations–by far the largest attendance recorded since German-born evangelist Reinhold Bonnke launched the CfaN crusades in Africa more than 25 years ago. Although precise attendance estimates are difficult on such a scale, there was never any guesswork regarding the expansive size of the site: over 30 hectares (75 acres) of unimproved open space. For those charged with projecting a clear message to the multitudes, this would prove a challenging technical feat no matter how many hundreds of thousands attended. Yet astonishingly, only 32 relatively compact Meyer Sound loudspeaker cabinets were deployed to cover the entire crusade site. "When the system was being set up, some key local organizers had initially complained about the size of the system," recalls Peter van den Berg, the CfaN Vice President who bears overall organizational responsibility for the ministry's worldwide activities. "They said it looked far too small for such a big area. But then they came to me after the meetings were underway and told me that it was 'miraculous' how everyone in the huge crowd could hear so well."
A Soggy Turn of Events
Primary responsibility for producing this "miraculous sound" fell to Derek Murray, who heads the CfaN Sound Department. He was ably assisted by CfaN FOH mixer, Alan Gibson, and David Hopkinson of U.K.-based Wigwam Acoustics, who played a key role in system configuration and installation. Although veterans of many other crusades in Africa, Murray and his crew found last November's event particularly challenging on several fronts. "We had to abandon our first choice for the crusade site because the rainy season ended late and left part of the site knee deep in water," says Murray. "We found another useable tract of land nearby, though we had to cut our own access road. Our first choice of layout there didn't work, again because of waterlogged ground, but an alternate plan proved workable. With only a few days left before the crusade's opening, we didn't have time to lay down concrete pads for the scaffold towers as we had planned. On top of all that, our new sound equipment was delayed in customs, some of our sound crew were having trouble obtaining visas, we couldn't find enough appropriate scaffolding, and it was still raining." Providentially, the equipment cleared customs within hours of the absolute deadline, the crew visas were approved, and after scouring the local scaffold distributors, the key tower components were obtained. And, it finally stopped raining.
In order to project dynamic music over such a wide area, the system had to be run "flat out" for most of the evening, which made the RMS system particularly useful in allowing each loudspeaker to achieve maximum output without introducing significant distortion.
The next task at hand for the CfaN sound crew was reconfiguring the PA system to handle the last-minute change of site layouts. The stage was centered on the longer dimension of the roughly rectangular tract (800 meters x 350 meters) and set about 2/3 of the way back along the shorter dimension. "We basically divided the field into two sections and fired the PA along a diagonal on each side, at forty-five degrees to the stage. This is not our normal approach, but with a field 800 meters wide we had to do things differently. Firing at this angle from the stage left us a bit light in the front center, but we in-filled this region using UPA-1Ps." The two main clusters each comprised eight self-powered MSL-4 cabinets and four conventionally powered MSL-3 boxes. A total of eight UPA-1Ps were deployed for center, side and rear fills, as a significant portion of the crowd assembled behind the stage. All the self-powered loudspeakers were connected to a FOH computer running RMS (Meyer Sound's Remote Monitoring System.)
Though engulfed by the masses, this minimal but resolute system performed beyond expectations, night after night. Each evening's program included music (Afro-pop style gospel along with traditional African drumming), preaching by Reinhard Bonnke, prayers for healing and personal testimony from the audience. In order to project dynamic music over such a wide area, the system had to be run "flat out" for most of the evening, which made the RMS system particularly useful in allowing each loudspeaker to achieve maximum output without introducing significant distortion. Derek Murray recalls an SPL measurement at FOH of around 98dB, and he was told that even at the perimeter the level was sufficient (perhaps 70dB) to rise above ambient crowd noise. "I never actually got to the back corners" he confesses, "because that was a distance of nearly 500 meters and moving through the packed crowd for even short distances was a time-consuming feat." Peter van den Berg, who had a bit more freedom to move about, was pleasantly surprised by the system's ability to cover the massive field. "In the twenty years I have been associated with CfaN and large mass meetings," he reports, "I have never heard sound that penetrated so far while maintaining such good fidelity. It was superb."
Second Stadium System
All crusade meetings at the primary site were held in the evening to accommodate working people, but concurrent daytime events for pastors and church workers were held at the National Football Stadium in Lagos. For these meetings, with attendance of up to 90,000, Murray devised a second system comprising eight MSL-3s arrayed in a single layer across a 210 degree arc, plus eight UPA-1Ps for rear and side fill.
The two crusade systems were assembled using components from four different sources. Roughly half of the gear was already owned by CfaN system and based permanently in Africa. Other components were shipped in from CfaN's European-based system, while others were on loan from another evangelical group in Africa. Finally, the system was augmented by new equipment purchased through Wigwam Acoustics, with the additional cooperation of Autograph Sales in respect to the Meyer sound products.
Although providing sound for the Millennium Crusade involved a number of difficult decisions, Derek Murray testifies that selection of a loudspeaker provider was not among them. "I have worked with many other systems," says Murray, "but for us Meyer wins on several counts. Build quality has been excellent, maintenance costs are low, performance is consistent from unit to unit. Also, the power-to-size is helpful when we have to pack everything for a crusade into a single shipping container. But perhaps most important is the outstanding speech intelligibility, because speech projection is the primary role of the systems." Murray cites durability and reliability as other key factors in CfanN's selection of Meyer products. "We normally keep two systems for working smaller campaigns in Africa, one in Nigeria and one in Kenya," he notes. "When working in remote interior regions, you do not have the luxury of calling a local hire company for a backup. What you bring along has to work every time. Also, being a charitable group, we have to watch our expenditures over the long run. Previously, no other loudspeaker systems had survived more than four years in the tough African conditions. When I first purchased our MSL-3 and UPA-1 systems, I'd estimated we would get eight years of use, having seen them perform in some demanding hire situations. Yet we have one Meyer MSL-3 system based in Africa that is now eleven years old and still working!"
Related content: A video interview with Derek Murray on Meyer Sound reliability [Post date: March 8, 2012]: