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On eve of 15th Carnaval del Sol, founder Paola Murillo dreams of a permanent Latin American plaza in Vancouver

Paola Murillo 3
Latincouver executive director Paola Murillo launched Carnaval del Sol in 2010.

In Latin America, a celebration known as quinceañera takes place on a girl’s 15th birthday. It marks her transition from childhood to adulthood. In the same way, the nonprofit group Latincouver is commemorating its quinceañera this year.

It’s also the quinceañera for its signature event, Carnaval del Sol.

The founder of this annual Latin American festival, Paola Murillo, explains the significance of the quinceañera this way: “You’re not just a little child being carried by the hand. You’re an adult who has stable wishes and a stable team. The dreams are stable and now you go for those dreams. You know what you want as a person.”

Murillo is the Colombian-born executive director of Latincouver. And on its quinceañera, she says the dream is for a Latin American plaza that would become a permanent home for Carnival del Sol. Plus, it would also be the site of a cultural centre for the Latin American community in Metro Vancouver.

She’s hoping the biggest music star from her country might offer some assistance.

“I dreamt that Shakira was coming—not to Carnaval del Sol but to Latincouver,” Murillo says. “And she says, ‘Guys, we’re going to help you make this plaza happen.’ ”

Murillo knows more than anyone that the rapidly growing Latin American community needs a permanent base in Vancouver. She organized the first festival in 2010 at the Hellenic Community of Vancouver’s St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church on the city’s West Side. It later moved downtown, then to Concord Pacific Place, and then to Jonathan Rogers Park.

This year, the City of Vancouver tried to shift it to Hastings Park. However, Murillo was able to persuade the Vancouver park board to make David Lam Park available.

Meanwhile, the number of people who self-identify as Latin American in B.C. rose by nearly 50 percent in Metro Vancouver between 2016 and 2021.

Proyecto Uno by Nelson Zapata
Proyecto Uno founder Nelson Zapata (centre) is flanked by bandmates Kid G and Paolo Tondo. Nelson Zapata photo.

Carnaval del Sol presents Proyecto Uno

In the meantime, Latincouver is gearing up for some big events.

On Thursday (July 6) at 6 p.m., Montreal-based Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra will be at the Vancouver Playhouse, performing their melodic Colombian and Caribbean rhythms. It’s part of the Latin Circus Orchestra event, which includes the circus and dance show BARKA produced by Montreal-based Productions Girovago.

According to co-artistic director Patrick Léonard, BARKA uses a boat “as a metaphor for humanity”.

Then on Friday (July 7), the fun shifts to David Lam Park for the opening night of the 15th annual Carnaval Del Sol. It will celebrate Colombia with a Beer Plaza and the beats of DJ Portu, KG fresh, Jay Ville, BLZBO Music, and DJ Acarriz. In addition, there will be drag performances inspired by Shakira, Selena, and other top Latin American pop stars.

On Saturday (July 8) and Sunday (July 9), Carnaval del Sol continues through the day and evening in David Lam Park. On both days, there will be many bands and dance troupes performing on-stage, with Proyecto Uno plays the final set on Saturday.

Proyecto Uno burst onto the New York scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s by blending merengue with dancehall, reggae, hip-hop and techno. Along the way, it earned an Emmy nomination. Now based in Miami, the band founded by Nelson Zapata also captured Premios Lo Nuestro at the Billboard Latin Music Awards. Its hits include “Meuve La Cadera (Move Your Hips”, “No Nos Tenemos”, and “25 horas”,

“It’s the first time we’ve ever brought in such a renowned band,” Murillo says.

Video: Mazacote performs at Carnaval del Sol in 2019.

Mazacote returns to the festival

Other performers on Saturday include Sambacouver, Gabriel Palatchi Trio, Julio Avila Cuban Band, Aché Brasil, and Casa Meshiko Danza. Plus, there will be a surprise show, whom Murillo reveals in her interview with Pancouver: BARKA with the music of the Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver-based salsa Mazacote closes Carnaval del Sol on Sunday.

In addition to Mazacote, Sunday’s lineup includes Vancouver Samba School, Felix Cuba y El Iyawo, Espanglish, Rumba 7, Victor Robles, Los Duendes, and Zumba with Carol Santos.

There will also be food and beer plazas on-site through the weekend. As well, Latincouver is providing gathering spots for seniors, families, and kids. The latter is especially significant for Murillo, who is the mother to a toddler.

“I’m trying to create a space of inclusion for the little ones so they will be proud of their heritage while they embrace Canada” Murillo says. “That’s something very important for me.”

Visit the Carnaval del Sol website for more information and tickets. For information on Latincouver, visit its website. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.