From the days of military dictatorship, through Brazil’s rocky emergence as a destination for international artistes during the 1980s, to it being the financial anchor for most tours of South America, audio company Gabisom – celebrating its 35th anniversary – has been at the forefront of most major events, from the Olympics and FIFA World Cup to the Rock in Rio festival. Mike Gartside reports
In the mid 1970s, when a “very young” Gabi Ferreira was honing his craft as a sound engineer and taking his first steps in the audio business, Brazil was emerging from a military dictatorship and the country was a long way from being a regular destination for international artistes, with a range of geographical and economic barriers to growth.
With a land area just 15 per cent smaller than the entire United States and with a fraction of its northern neighbour’s nationwide infrastructure, Brazil demanded extraordinary logistical skills from national tour suppliers, while its economic cycle saw dramatic currency devaluations, making overseas equipment investments expensive and unpredictable.
Quoting Brazilian singer Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ferreira admits, “Brazil is not for beginners”.
Throughout the 1970s he worked as a sound engineer for Jobim and large number of other national artistes. At the same time, he was designing and developing his own proprietary audio equipment, which formed the bulk of the inventory when he launched production company Gabisom in 1984.
Ferreira says the founding principle of the Sao Paulo-based enterprise was and remains “the complete fulfillment of artistes’ and events’ production needs in all areas”.
Starting out with three employees, the Gabison pursued this philosophy to grow to today’s team of 300 people with nine divisions including concerts, musical theatre, corporate events, fixed installations, tours and sporting events.
Along the way it has become audio provider for all the Rock in Rio festival’s incarnations around the world, starting with the event’s 170,000-capacity third edition in 2001, at Rio de Janeiro’s City of Rock.
It also supplies sound to the Rio Carnival, which welcomes two million visitors daily, and a host of major-league festivals and artistes.
“The company started as the natural result of demand as my professional career progressed,” says Ferreira. “In the 1970s and ‘80s there was no easy access to dedicated pro-audio equipment here, which led to the development of our own tools.
“From the beginning, the company ran on its own capital, with no outside or family investment. We grew gradually, considering the market was not developed at the time, but the company always had the supply of large projects in its DNA.”
Early on, Gabisom developed what became career-long relationships with international and Latin American promoters, including Phil Rodriguez of Move Concerts and Jose Muniz of Mercury Concerts.
“I’ve been with Gabisom since Day One,” says Rodriguez, who until 2015 booked the mainstage for Rock in Rio. “It is a matter of pride to Gabi to provide whatever gear most artistes ask for.
“He has a passion for his equipment and is the one sound company in South America that has invested heavily. Furthermore, he’s done this within the trials of the South American business environment including political changes, frozen bank accounts and multiple other storms.”
Early shows Gabisom worked on for Rodriguez include Siouxsie & The Banshees, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, Duran Duran, UB40, New Order, Sting, The Ramones, James Brown and Metallica.
“We all grew together,” he says. “Although the first time he did sound for Rock in Rio was 2001, Gabi was involved in every major show I did in Latin America: even if the artiste brought their own PA, he would still provide delay towers.”
“Among those artistes are Ed Sheeran, Bryan Adams, Iron Maiden, Shawn Mendes and Hall & Oates. “Gabi gives us tranquillity: if there’s an issue with the kit, it’s replaced in 24 hours,” says Rodriguez.
Move’s production director Nico Gomes explains how Gabisom pioneered leapfrogging – whereby two or more productions for shows that take more than a day to construct, start setting-up ahead – in South America.
“With Beyonce, we had shows in the north-east, central and south-east of Brazil,” says Gomes. “There was no time to truck equipment from north to south. Without Gabisom it could not have been done. Gabi had two or three systems working at once.
“As we played one show we had a second system ahead and so we didn’t have to wait for the equipment in Sao Paulo.”
Beyoncé played shows at Castelao Stadium (cap. 40,000) in Fortaleza, Morumbi Stadium (52,750) in the Sao Paulo and Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha (72,800), in Brasilia.
Jose Muniz, whose Mercury Concerts promotes Latin American tours by Guns N’Roses, Kiss, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam and The Who, plus festivals such as Monsters of Rock (60,000), São Paulo Trip and Rockfest (55,000), has a similar story.
“I started to work with Gabi back in 1986,” he says. “The first tour was Billy Paul in Brazil, at venues including the Projeto [3,000] in Sao Paulo. We also did national tours with Brazilian artistes, such as Fagner, Kid Abelha and Yahoo.
“At the time Brazil was under a military regime and it was extremely difficult to import audio technology. Gabi was always able to provide the best available equipment on the market. He became a big friend and supported me in a big way. He was always there during the ups and downs.”
Likewise, Luiz Oscar Niemeyer of T4F has worked with Gabisom for about 30 years, perhaps the highlight being a 1.5 million-capacity concert for The Rolling Stones on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach in 2006.
“We had 60 delay towers on the beach,” Niemeyer recalls. “Gabi always updates his kit and meets artistes’ requirements.”
He remembers an incident which may have inspired Gabisom to make further investments.
“In 1990 we were promoting Eric Clapton in Brazil and Santiago [Chile]. Gabi provided the system but had problems with the promoter in Santiago, who withheld the kit. He managed to get it back in time to do Clapton’s Brazil show but now he has four systems, so he doesn’t need to load equipment out of a venue immediately.”
Promoter and venue operator Opus Promoções has worked with Ferreira since the 1970s, including shows by the Ray Conniff Choir and Orchestra in 1977 and Ray Charles in 1978, both at Ginasio Gigantinho )18,000) in Porto Alegre.
Opus runs nine theatres across the country, including Teatro Bradesco (1,440) in Sao Paulo, Teatro VillageMall (1,000) in Rio de Janeiro and Teatro Riomar (700).
“The start of Opus Promoções was intertwined with our association with Gabisom,” says Opus president Carlos Konrath. “Both companies created a solid partnership leading to years of achievement, and this involvement deepened as Opus opened new theatres across Brazil.
“Gabisom’s team always gives us access to the best technology solutions available. Their expertise is paramount, especially for large events and musicals.
“We have amazing memories over more than four decades of partnership, inclkuding several gigs at Gigantinho in Porto Alegre, with attendances of over 18,000, including a Ney Matogrosso and Roberto Carlos’ concert in 1982.
“We also worked together on events like the Pop Music Festival with Shakira, and a Black Eyed Peas cocnert, both at Porto Alegre’s FIERGS Centre, witu configurations of 21,500 and 12,050 respectively.”
He believes one source of Gabisom’s success is its “boldness and entrepreneurial ability to stay up-to-date, while having an efficient staff and operational structure to overcome all logistical obstacles in Brazil”.
Some of the world’s leading audio manufacturers have made a significant contribution to Gabisom’s success, often devising creative ways of supplying the company, particularly in unfavourable economic times.
Meyer Sound has worked with Gabisom on venue installations, festivals and concerts for 30 years.
The company’s sales manager for Central and South America, Juan Carlos Yepes, says, “Gabisom has an incredible capacity to answer all kinds of demands, small to large, in a short period of time. They achieve this even while they are working on concerts in several cities simultaneously in a continental country like Brazil, including working in other South American countries.”
The company first provided Gabisom with systems for a concert by Julio Iglesias at Sao Paulo’s Palace Theater (2,500) in 1989, followed by a Jose Carreras tour in 1993 in venues of up to 30,000 people, Pavarotti in 1994, again to audiences of up to 30,000, and Monsters of Rock featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper and Faith No More.
“We have constantly grown our collaboration with them,” says Yepes. “From installations on the larger, most important theatres in Brazil to large stadium concerts.”
Most recently they have collaborated on tours by Ed Sheeran and Paul McCartney, both in 40,000 to 70,000-capacity venues.
UK-based manufacturer Martin Audio, provides its MLA sound system to Rock in Rio’s main event in Brazil, plus its Lisbon (Portugal) and Las Vegas festivals.
“Gabisom is one of the most important rental companies in the world,” says Berenice Gutierrez, Martin Audio’s regional sales and marketing manager for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“In Brazil the import process charges too many duties, almost 100 per cent plus VAT, so it’s difficult to get any product into the country. One challenge over the years has been around the exchange rate. We have had to set a proper price to support them and get the MLA, MLA Compact and WPL into their stock.
“Gabisom has a really clever crew: there are so many key guys including Peter Racey. Gabi shows real leadership with his team. He takes most of the phone calls whether it’s a small cooperative event or a really big show and then he delegates to make it happen. It’s a great approach.”
Tim McCall, the regional sales manager in Brazil for French manufacturer L-Acoustics, says “Our relationship with Gabisom goes back to the early 2000s with their purchase of our V-Dosc system, the first in Latin America.
Then, in 2015, they bought the first of multiple K1 systems. In the last few years, they’ve fielded huge systems for tours by Pearl Jam, Depeche Mode, Ozzy Ozbourne and others, as well as festivals such as Tomorrowland [60,000], Maximus [25,000] and Lollapalooza [80,500].
“The whole team at Gabisom is known for their work ethic, their determination and flexibility. Put those three together and you have a real winning combination.”
L-Acoustics’ global director of business development Jochen Frohn adds, “For 35 years, Gabisom has been a vital player in the rock ’n’ roll circus, serving quality sound to the world’s biggest events likev the Olympics and FIFA World Cup to Rock in Rio and the Carnival in Rio.”
In the face of global pressures and opportunities, Gabisom has demonstrated 35 years of ingenuity and resourcefulness – the very spirit of the industry it serves.