The music from a line-up of local jazz bands inspired spontaneous dancing throughout the day, as Douglas Park was transformed from grassy fields to the site of Langley’s Fifth Annual Jazz Festival in June.
The small dance floor set up in front of the main stage was filled with young and old over the course of the festival — including the high-stepping organizers of the event, Omer Mahmood and Shannon Braithwaite.
These Trinity Western University alumni have been highly involved in the community’s swing and jazz scene for almost a decade now. It started eight years ago — when Mahmood was finishing up his business degree and needed one more co-op credit.
Rather than find a typical placement, he started his own business: a swing club called Fat City Swing.
He loved swing music, and was tired of driving into the city to find venues; so he decided to bring the swing to Langley, enlisting Braithwaite to help.
All these years later, Fat City Swing continues to be a thriving club, meeting every Friday night at the West Langley Hall in Walnut Grove.
Two Fridays each month feature live music, providing a platform for local musicians. Over the years, Mahmood and Braithwaite have invested countless hours to allow this venue to continue.
“It’s an extension of our passions that we want to share with the community,” Mahmood told BCCN .
While they admit there are no openly Christian aspects to what they do, Mahmood and Braithwaite both insist on the importance of the sense of community that is fostered through their efforts.
“We give people opportunities to come out, dance and socialize,” Mahmood said. “We thrive on seeing relationships being formed.”
Braithwaite agreed, saying that people have found “a real sense of belonging.”
She added: “We don’t want [the club] to be overtly Christian, because we don’t want to exclude people.”
As Fat City grew, Mahmood and Braithwaite also felt drawn to help get the annual jazz festival off the ground.
They are now the sole organizers of the free event, as they continue to believe in its importance.
“By having a free event, anyone can be exposed to jazz,” Mahmood said.
Another venture the two have spearheaded is ‘Swingin’ in the Park,’ which takes the place of weekly gatherings at Fat City Swing in the months of July and August.
They rent a dance floor and set it up in Douglas Park every Friday night, inviting the community to come and enjoy the free entertainment.
Mahmood and Braithwaite also have contracts at local elementary schools, to teach swing dancing in physical education classes.
They do all of this purely because they enjoy it, as Mahmood has a ‘day job’ as a financial consultant and recruiter — while Braithwaite is a professional actor, producer and writer.
“We do it because it’s a style of music that we love,” Braithwaite said. “Really, we’re both artists at heart.”