The Evolution of Latin Sparks Festival

By: Emma Poole, Ottawa Festivals

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Latin Sparks Festival extravaganza is coming back to Ottawa on September 9th 2023! Just in case you’ve stumbled upon this article with no prior information, allow me to explain. In short, LSF is a vibrant and dynamic celebration of Latin American culture, music, dance, food, and traditions. For one night only, people from various backgrounds can come together to immerse themselves in the rich heritage of Latin America.

Since its beginnings in 2012, the Latin Sparks festival has been consistently growing to the point of having their festival described as basically “one HUGE outdoor dance party”, all in the name of celebrating the diversity and beauty of Latin American countries! Now regarded as Canada’s BIGGEST Latin festival, it’s hard to imagine that LSF started out as just a small dance event on Ottawa’s own Sparks Street. In the spirit of celebrating LSF and its 10yr anniversary, we want to take a trip down memory lane, to discover how Latin Sparks has evolved over time and earned its title as one of biggest and BEST Latin Festivals in Canada.

Historical Context + Evolution

Developing and growing a festival sounds just about as daunting a task as I could imagine. Crippling deadlines, complex organization, funding stressors, and facing constant challenges is enough to scare me away from event planning. These are the things that I thought I would be hearing from LSF founders as they recount the early days of their festival. Turns out it was much simpler! LSF was conceived in the humblest of ways – two friends who shared a passion for music, dance, and connecting with the community. These two pals, Kareem Aly, and Carl Karamaoun had spent much of their undergrad at Carleton University organizing and fundraising events for the school’s community. With this shared love of event creation, Kareem and Carl had a clear path in mind for post-graduation. Unsure of where exactly to begin, Kareem and Carl figured they’d start with a shared interest – Latin music, dance, and culture. With a curated playlist, an iPhone, and a speaker in hand, Kareem and Carl secured a portion of a patio on Ottawa’s Sparks Street and hosted their first Latin dance events. The event was hosted every Thursday and quickly created a space that attracted more and more members of the community to come out and enjoy the music and dance the night away!

Receiving lots of support from the community and Les Gagne, the then Executive Director of Sparks Street BIA, the event quickly expanded and eventually took up most of the street. Using limited promotional tactics such as dance parades, teaching bystanders how to dance salsa in 60 seconds, and circulating content from previous years helped the event continue to grow. Eventually needing more space due to the rapid expansion of the event, they moved to Albert Island in 2016 which served as a space to foster further festival expansion.

In just two short years, the festival was big enough to find success in the big city of Toronto where, with the help of a larger team, they reproduced the same remarkable celebratory event on a larger scale. Having been on a relatively consistent upward trajectory, the COVID-19 pandemic put the festival into a period of forced stagnation. While the festival was put on pause, team members did lots of work behind the scenes to ensure that they make a strong comeback post-pandemic.

In most recent times, LSF has made a triumphant return due to the already established strong connection, loyalty, and support from community members. With this year being the LSF biggest milestone yet, LSF is expected to attract a crowd of 6,000+ people to this extraordinary celebration.

Key Features and Highlights

As LSF marks its 10yr anniversary, the festival promises to deliver an unforgettable experience with the hottest music, dance, food and drink.

One of the key highlights this year is the lineup of talented artists and performers. Latin musicians, dancers and DJs take the stage to entertain the crowd with their infectious rhythms and melodies. At it’s core, LSF is all about a love for dance! From salsa and merengue to reggaeton and bachata, everyone will be shaking their hips. Guests will have the opportunity to learn the steps popular Latin dance styles such as salsa and bachata, from professional instructors. These dance sessions create an interactive and engaging experience for participants of all skill levels.

Food is another key feature of the festival, as it showcases the rich culinary traditions of Latin America. Attendees can indulge in a variety of delicious dishes from different Latin American countries. Guests will be able to travel via food with LSF’s wide selection of authentic flavors that will surely tantalize the taste buds. In addition to these key features, there will also be surprises and bonus highlights to make this anniversary edition even more memorable.

Perhaps most of all, the Latin Sparks Festival works to emphasize community engagement and inclusivity and their commitment to fostering community is stronger than ever. LSF aims to create a space where people from all walks of life can come together to celebrate diversity and unity. Now, the anticipation for Latin Sparks is as much about the feeling of togetherness as it is about performances, dancing, food, etc.

Having 10 years of experience under their belt, the LSF team has high hopes for the future. The team is constantly working on ways to expand the festival experience, growing in numbers and attracting more demographics. LSF team members are optimistic about soon expanding their festival to more cities like Montreal and Vancouver, where they’d be able to host even larger events year-round! With the festival’s impressive track record, we have no doubts that the festival will continue to flourish. The LSF’s decade-long journey has been one full of incredible dedication and passion, one that has been a pleasure to write about and share on our channels. We have full confidence that the Latin Sparks Festival will continue to grow and continue to celebrate 20, 30, 40-year milestones. Until then, don’t miss out on this year’s biggest Latin Fest yet, happening at LeBreton Flats this Saturday September 9th. See you there!

Photos provided by Latin Sparks Festival.