By Julia Green
“We started on a street and ended up on an island,” says Carl Karamaoun, one of the organizers of Latin Sparks. The outdoor festival – which began on Sparks Street as a small patio gathering of no more than 100 people – has steadily grown since 2012 into one of the largest events of its kind in the country.
After living in Latin America as part of an exchange program with Carleton University, Karamaoun and his friend Kareem Aly returned to Ottawa and noticed that there was nothing in the city comparable to the outdoor dance parties they had experienced abroad. “We found a void in the city. From our experience as global citizens – we travelled, we saw things, and we brought back this idea,” says Karamaoun.
The original Latin Sparks event started in 2012 with Karamaoun and Aly pairing up with a Sparks Street patio to host the event. At that time, Karamaoun describes pulling up in his red Kia and plugging Aly’s iPod in to blast Latin music from speakers out of the trunk. That first summer the event took place weekly with between 50 to 100 attendees showing up each time.
Realizing the event’s potential, Karamaoun and Aly decided to take a risk the following summer and transform the event into a full block party. By 2014, Latin Sparks filled up an entire block of Sparks Street and was taking place monthly in the summer. DJs, local dance schools, animators, and food vendors all were added to the mix, not to mention an increase to around 4,000 attendees each month.
“It’s the event that I wait for every year.”
“It kind of gives life and colour to the city, which I used to call boring, to be honest,” says Sandy Tannouri, an event management ambassador who has worked with the team since 2015. “It’s the event that I wait for every year.”
By 2016 the event had grown so large it could no longer fit on Sparks Street, and the Latin Sparks team decided to move the party to Albert Island. The outdoor venue behind the Canadian War Museum is large enough for two dance floors: one for partner dancing (salsa and bachata) and another where a DJ will play mainly Latin pop hits. The 2017 edition taking place on June 10th will also have Latin food and drinks, dance workshops, and photo opportunities with animators wandering the crowd.
While the event has grown into something much bigger than Karamaoun and Aly ever imagined when they started out five years ago, the team insists that the best part about it is the humble roots and “family” feel the event has. Kais Ali, another event ambassador who has worked with the event since 2015, says that is what took him from attending the event to running it.
“It’s more than friendship, it’s family,” says Ali.
Latin Sparks 2017 will take place June 10 on Albert Island (6 Booth Street). Tickets cost $20 and are available online at www.latinsparks.ca.