How a TEDx team pulled off a giant flash mob in a Yemeni mall

Watch: TEDxAden’s 2013 flash mob performance

If you happened to be one of the many shoppers in Aden Mall in Aden, Yemen last December, you just might have run into a wonderful surprise — a collective of dancers, singers, and musicians putting on a beautiful performance of traditional Yemeni music in the middle of the mall’s main hall.

This performance was coordinated by the team at TEDxAden, as part of the lead-up to their event. “The idea was to create publicity for TEDxAden in a unique and attractive way that would interest locals and bring to them the spirit of TED,” said TEDx organizers Nadia Alsakkaf and Amr Gamal. “Moreover, we wanted to break the taboos and include dancing and singing in public, with an element of surprise and with a mixed-gender singing performance.”

Performers in TEDxAden's flash mob

Performers in TEDxAden’s flash mob

The TEDxAden team wanted the performance to take the mall’s shoppers by surprise, so they organized the project as a flash mob. With the mall’s permission, they had musicians and singers blend into the normal shopping crowds and then slowly take part in the performance as if they were regular passers-by. “It started with a young man suddenly starting to sing in the middle of the crowd,” said Alsakkaf. “His singing was followed by a number of musicians who produced equipment out of nowhere from various corners of the mall’s main lobby.”

One by one dancers joined the performance, and — eventually — a woman disguised as mall security was pulled into center stage by a young audience member, given a microphone and immediately started to sing. “She acted surprised and then took over with confidence and talent,” said Alsakkaf.

A singer performs in TEDxAden's flash mob

A singer performs in TEDxAden’s flash mob

It took the team about a month of preparation to pull off the performance, Gamal said. The biggest setback for the team was a lack of access to the venue to practice, but practice went on regardless. “We also had our doubts whether locals would accept such a daring performance that challenges cultural reservations and conservative attitudes,” Gamal said.

“However, the predominant reactions were positive and encouraging especially from the youth,” he said. “And it raised awareness about the concept of TEDx events and promoted the event that was held the following month, which was a booming success.”

Dancers at TEDxAden's flash mob

Dancers at TEDxAden’s flash mob

“We strongly believe that TEDxAden Flash mob has opened the door for other similar cultural events and it will be remembered as the first of its kind in Aden.”

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