His is named Marc Quenum. Still, Many call him Sanmak or 100mak. Others call him Irawo, like this beastly tattoo on his chest. As if a red iron decided/sealed his faith, as if he really came to grave his story into the heart of Africa. Many others see him everyday through the label “Nette Royale” on TV, on Youtube or by clicking on the right video… .
100mak carries on his shoulders Nette Royale, an agency of video production or visual marvels or hits. Who has never fallen for one of his clips? Well, this is it, 100mak is the best film director of Bénin. It’s not me who is saying. Eye last year’s Benin top 10.
If I dare show you, before he does it himself, the greatness of this 28 years old Beninese, I will say that his is becoming the best of his generation and one of the best in Africa. I confess : he bluffed me. His story, this confidence of his, this ambition, this furious envy to be the best, this insolence when he says: “Initiation class and preparatory class and it was good, I had finished school” . As would say Diamant Noir’s Amir El Presidente, 100mak have this thing of people who know they have a purpose on earth. 100mak is a star of Africa, if it needs to be said in English to be better heard. I have interviewed for you an unclassifiable Irawo. Quite imply an extraordinary man; inspiring an yes, stunning.
Tell the world that Bénin gave birth to a legend. I am exaggerating? You think? Well, read on. See for yourself …
Tell us Marc, How did you adventure started?
With Music. With a cousin, Bid-Mak, we released two albums Critique in 2006 and Evolution in 2010. We made Soyoyo. I wasn’t getting along with this style of music. I was more Hip Hop. But back then, there were not many people in this movement.
Is it film direction that passionate you the most?
It’s my path. I have neither been to direction school nor followed any training. I started with photography. I had a camera I used to take photos with, for my dance crew, my mates and I. I learned by myself. I dreamed of becoming the best cameraman in Benin. It was my challenge.
How does one learn by itself with no Internet, no training, no library?
I used to watch a lot of foreign videos. I would be interested in Hip Hop clips, movies and animations. I watch movies for framing, frames variation, the chaining and finally the screenplay cause it’s also a part of film realization.
Why “Nette Royale” when your nickname is 100mak?
As a matter of fact, I was a singer et didn’t want to sign with my artist name on others artists videos. Nette Royale used to be called 9.1 (Nine One) in regards to my two film editors and mates who were born in 1991. I owned my camera, they knew film edition. So we teamed up. With time people would be saying: “Your pictures are clean. Net. Net. Net”. Simple, and there it was, it’s the royal ness. “Nette Royale!”Simple and there it was, it's the royal ness. “Nette Royale!” Click To Tweet
I’m not doing anything serious. I really like creating little stuff. You will notice it by the way I speak french. I haven’t spend much time at school. I did initiation and preparatory classes; and all good, me I had finished school.
Why did you quit school?
All this, it was already inspiration (laughs). I haven’t been fitting in school. In class, I used to not understand a shit. I wasn’t at my ease there. All that interested me in school, it was Wednesdays et Fridays. For the show! I was a star of rolls . I can neither write nor read. At least not with a pen and a paper. But with a phone, I can. School is good, but my path didn’t go by there.
How did you manage to work this out so far?
Nobody believes me when I say I haven’t been at school. Nobody. I have made much efforts to learn to speak in French. I didn’t learn all this at school. I learned on the street, with some folks not necessarily as dumb as me. I always like to hang out with people who has something more, something a little intellectual. And as I was frequenting them …
Being fluent in French was very important to me, since I was a kid. But, I knew I wouldn’t learn it at school. I speak fon-gbé and Mina. Nobody really went to school in “La Panthère Noire” (The Black Panther), my father’s family. Not even my brother Robinson Sipa. Most of us left school right after the first elementary class in order to find a job. But when it was about art, we would become the kings.When it was about art, we would become the kings. Click To Tweet
How do you explain that? Is it a familial gift?
My father was polyvalent as an artist. He used to do everything. His blood lives through us. He never had a master himself. He, Georges Quenum, was “La Panthère Noire”. There were some white people who came in Africa to do circus. They would play with lions, tigers and fire. And my father, parent-less, all simply jumped into it. One day, the guy who used to accompany the circus-men with the drum was sick. My father, who was the errand boy replaced him. He amazed them and they took him along to France. My father has never drop an album but he was a musician. He used to play live with six Toumba. He was master saxophonist and master chorister. He taught a lot to Angelique KIDJO. When he got back to Benin, he came along with the nickname “La Panthère Noire” (The Black Panther). At Vodjè, in our house, he started to organize his own circus shows. That’s why there are panthers statuses in the house. He used to make bass guitars, contrabasses, violins. He would make shows with animals, with my sisters, with my brothers: the twins Eddy and Robinson Sipa.
All modesty put aside, how do you look at the concurrence?
I have neither enemies nor concurrents. Before I became Sanmak, I worked with everyone in the shadow. With Scuz Boss, Heragem, DalJ, Imperial, Drahmas, Polo Orisha, Real Sniper. I don’t like to drop this kind of words but it can’t be helped because it’s what everyone think : honestly I know nobody better at framing than me. That’s what I dedicated myself to the most. Today, there is “Nette Royale” a team which work on videos edition.
If you’ve fulfilled your dream of being the best cameraman in Benin, What is your next challenge?
My greatest dream is to have a place in Hollywood. Maybe to become the number one director in the biggest movie production companies.
Have you ever done something in cinema?
Yes I directed two films. There is “L’Abomination” and “L’allumeuse et le manipulateur”, Beninese productions. I have a lot of projects and i’m looking forward to dive in them. I don’t want to do like others either. I have a different vision for Beninese Cinema. We can do much more with better organization and more resources.
Pictures quality, screenplays can be enhanced. There is a rising young generation, new realities are appearing. I don’t necessarily see it in our movies. Some are trying but we need more productions for each young Beninese to be able to identify.
Do you pass on what you have learned, even on the bulk, to others people?
Everyday, youngsters want to work with me. It’s my pleasure ant it doesn’t bother me at all. But it brings out two problems. First, i’m not stable. Sometimes I don’t have any time or I am on a trip. Then, i’ve tried to do it with some guys but I have been disappointed. There are some youngsters only interested in the showing-off of history. Some people who wouldn’t even reach my level before fucking-up their project due to showing-off.
As for me, I really mine my brains. For my shootings, I write a little part of the scenario and I deal with the rest on the field. I have learned something. Our reality in Africa is uncommon. It’s not all set up as elsewhere. They are always unexpected stuff and lack of resources. Always someone who will run late. The Shooting place owner who will be reminding you the time.
These things bug me and to avoid them, I plan some things but only validate them on the field. I have no time to joke around. When people pay you a million for their project and see you all relax, they freak out. When it come to shooting everybody trust 100%. There is no approximation. That, it’s not easy. It has been hard for me to reach that level.
You gotta work in life. As long as you work, make sure to be fresh. There isn’t one girl who will resist. I am a director. I also want to direct my life. I know what I reflect. Cool and fresh but no work, it’s not right. Today I earn my life very well with a job I have never studied. All I have to say to the youth, is to take life seriously. It’s very very important. That’s what I did.
Before starting to shoot, I laugh to make everyone comfortable, but right after I forget about them. I tried to work with some young folks. I know a lot of filmmakers who take more care of girls than their cameras. They laugh, they chat, they kiss. Some smoke on the shooting scene. Me, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink alcohol; I don’t go out at night to party. All my life, I dedicated to work. After work, if I have a little time to enjoy myself, it is just with my kids. And this is not frequent either. But I accept it and I ask my wife to accept it like that. She won’t lack for anything, it’s all that matter. If you are there 24/7 and there is no income, you will be arguments all the time. I tell her “Darling, I will do everything. You won’t ever lack for anything. But for this matter of time, you will have to work it out. It’s your share of sacrifice.”
But of course I will not stop trying because of that, people are not all the same.All I have to say to young people, is to take their life in hand. Click To Tweet
At a time or another, did you feel like being in the shadow of your famous elders?
I did not surf on my family buzz. There are people who would have sang every time “I am Sipa’s younger brother” but it wasn’t my case. When I started to make films, nobody knew in my family. Besides I had stopped to live at home since I turned 14.
How did you use to go along after leaving your house?
Few youngsters would have the nerve to do all the things I did. I did everything but the easy life. I didn’t do cyber-criminality. I started working at 12. I was mason’s mate paid 6000 XOF/FCFA a week. I was barber apprentice. Then, I worked in public works. I worked as a handworker for 3 years on road construction sites. I was roots collector and labourer for an old man, who used to pilot a leveler machine. With time, he let me drive the machine. I had a 70000 FCFA per month salary. I was 15.
One day, some white people came on the construction site, and I was operating the machine. I was little but I was doing it well. They asked me what I was doing there, where was my boss. They left but only to spy on me from afar. The next day, they brought a second machine just for me. That’s when I dove into music. – which I financed with my labourer salary – and after music, dance. Through these experiences I “knew” money. I would search for more profitable activities. I wasn’t the waster type. I wanted to make a name for myself. I wanted to become “Somebody”I wanted to make a name for myself. I wanted to become “Somebody” Click To Tweet
How did you buy your first material?
It was a gift. A canon 550D. I had started by photography. I used to charge my photo shooting 70 000 – 80 000 FCFA. It was the first digital camera to be used to shoot a video clips in Benin. Thanks to that, I started to work with all the directors who preceded me. It’s that camera which put the spot on me thanks to the images quality, in HD, band-less. It used to amaze everybody. I had started to do something that many people didn’t use to do. I had brought something new in the game. I did not use to compare myself to others directors. I couldn’t find what I wanted to do. Today, I can make a 700 000 job in one day.
What material do you use today?
A Canon 5D. I have 3 lenses : 50 mm, 14 mm and 35 mm. And my steady-cam. I also own two small lights and a Phantom 3+ drone. It surprises and amazes a lot of people. The basis, It’s the dream. You can have the best materials in the world and still not do a good work.
What are the productions or collaborations you are the most proud of.
There isn’t yet a work that makes me so proud. It’s not my dream yet. Sometimes it upsets me that people shout my name already. Because I am not ready yet. It is not yet what I want. But from Nine One to today, I made more than two thousands videos with “Nette Royale”. I had great time working with Degg J Force 3 from Guinea, Iba One of Malia, Soul Bang’s (Prix Découverte RFI 2016 ), Kandia Kora of Bomaye Musik, Fanicko, Blaaz, Sessime, CCC, Willy Mignon, Kemi and a bunch of others. I achieved in my country before anywhere else but but there is a growing feeling that it is the opposite.
Can one say that you was made by the street?
Yes. All I can do today don’t come from my family education. Nobody used to think about me and I didn’t use to think about them. Nobody has time for anyone. Each person take care of itself, as long as there is no problem. God also gave me something because if it was only the street, I would have lose myself. I used to frequent some friends … not necessarily nice. I did not touch to weed. I have not yet seen anyone smoke weed and be normal. Weed did a lot of harm around me. In my childhood, it destroyed a person very dear to me and that’s why I swore to never touch it. I have seen a lot happen before my eyes. I put some limits to myself from the start.
When I ask what good weed will do to me, I am told that it will more inspire me but the sequel won’t be good. Those who smoke weed do not react to it the same way but they have a common side : weed slows your steps. Of course you see things differently, you think you can speed up, the ideas come to you but you won’t realize them because you think you have it all; and you rest and it’s over. I have seen relatives slowed down by that. Everybody left them. A friend and director lost his clients like that: he wouldn’t deliver rushes on time, he wouldn’t take care of the job, he wouldn’t behave well with his clients. Weed, it’s not much good.Weed, it's not much good. Click To Tweet
Is that why you sang “your star”?
When “your star” was inspired to me, I cried. I didn’t write the text. I was on my motorbike. I started to hum it and it gave me chicken skin. I composed the beat by voice note and finished the song in studio. It was in 2016. I am talking about people who have something but their fate is stained by the wrong people. But no matter what may happen, you will finally shine. Of all the songs I have made, it’s the one that particularly moves me. Each time I listen to it, it makes me wanna cry. It was like that song was me. My songs always tell about my life but this one, it is like everything I said in it was the truth.
What troubles did you face starting film direction?
When I started I used to work in the shadow of those who were already there, for nobody knew me. I would shoot the images and they will edit them. They wouldn’t necessarily pay me something but it didn’t matter to me cause I knew where I was going. To see through the game, you gotta work with the guys who were playing before you. You need experience. You have to become the master of your life. And for that, you must create a journey. I started alone but I worked with the others.
Did “La panthère Noire” (the black Panther) deliver a cat? If you father was still alive what would he say about you?
It’s my only regret today. When I used to say that school wasn’t my thing, and used to come back home, when everybody wanted to beat me, he would say: “Leave him. He has something, I know”. My father was the only one to take my defense although he was the one paying for the school. It’s as if he knew my destiny. I would wonder, surprised: what kind of dad is this? But he was cool! When I think about him, its hurts me a lot. He would be very proud of me.
What is 100Mak’s next project ?
I am searching reliable pipes to produce artists. This is to bring new talents out of the shadows, to reveal them. I know a number of underground little guys who are 3 times better than the guys we already know. That’s why I have been signing “Nette Royale Production” for some time. I want to create an urban music industry.
How did you set your services’ fees?
I used to consider the work quality, the clients feedbacks, the prices foreign artists pay their directors. For someone who knows the value of what I do, my price is not exaggerated. The minimum price to have a clip signed “Nette Royale” is 500 000 FCFA. When I tell my standard prices to foreigners, they find them cheaper because they know what a film direction can cost. I increase them bit by bit. If the work quality changes, the price will change.
Tell us how a clip signed Nette Royale is made …
First I listen to the song. I imagine the video clip. I write the screenplay. Each clip is a dream I make. I say what it takes to realize this dream. If the artist gives the resources, I organize the shooting. I spot places, I look for extras. Sometimes, I coach the dancers or I help the artist choose his stage outfits …
The shooting day, I come with my materials. I coach the artists. You have to know when to gesture, you need the style. I know what is needed for each song because I was dancer, then singer, and now I am film director. When somebody isn’t doing good in front of my camera, I notice. I’m in charge of images shooting and artistic direction.. I bring the rushes to my team (X-TIME, CASS LEE, MONEL SAGBO, BARAKELL BENI, PATRICK QUENUM) which take care of the pre-montage. The buzz started with #OVFC of Fanicko. I realized the dream of that clip.
There are at least 5 signatures of “Nette Royale” looping in a day on major pan-African televisions. I analyze everything that works, how to stay in this mood and I add something more. Sanmak, it’s not just only one path to follow. It is without (trade)marks. But doing the best job possible, that is the Sanmak touch.
Recently, you shared a broadcast that said your new videos look too much alike. The majority of your followers approved this review. What do you say ?
Three factors explain this feeling. First, the artists don’t invest enough resources in their clip realization. Freestyle videos on the street are low budget productions. Second, the songs themselves define the videos. If it is just a dance floor song, you can’t write a scenario. We use funny, natural, simple ticks to transmit the feeling. Third, there are also the requirements of international TV channels that promote African artists. I made a lot of videos. The most popular have made the buzz and picked the attention of the public. The others are mostly available on Nette Royale’s YouTube channel. I do my best to satisfy the audience that supports us and I will take this comment into account.
Have you been prejudiced? If so, has your work been affected by this?
I was always taken for a gangster, a thug who does not want to do anything. Even so far, some believe I am a cyber-criminal. I have my style, my Dreadlocks. Before, I used to braid my hair. I got tattooed. I’m simple but when you see me, you have to notice me. Even among 100. My secret is not being where I’m expected. One can be dressed in jacket-tie and be a fake. But when you come across me, you think that it’s me the fake. But I do not mind. I find it stupid to think that the image of a person represents that person. It’s too stupid. Today, I am proud that young people want to be like me. I have many responsibilities at my age and I manage to assume them. Yet I do not have an easy life. My heart is different from my image.My heart is different from my image. Click To Tweet
I am a young cameraman, I want advices. What do you tell me?
No matter what area you are in, be serious, don’t be jealous, take an example from others and do what you have to. I see some people struggling very well and not having what they want. This is where I tell myself that God does not give the same strength to everyone. You can be doing your best, I can give you advice and still it will not change much in your life. It also takes a “feeling”. You have to develop some little qualities : deliver rushes quickly, trust your client, not be pressed by money. In film direction, you need to be a little crazy. You also need to be fast and sharp. When the camera is in your hand and the actor is in front of you, it’s on you to highlight him. You had to rack your brains for that. Your brain must be always working.Be serious, don't get jealous, take an example from others and do what you have to. Click To Tweet
For a first collaboration, I can just concentrate on doing a quality job to have the customer come back. I never say no to a new customer. I always listen to the customer and depending on how he behaves with me in return, we will continue to collaborate or not. My priority is not always money. There are many artists who want to come back to Nette Royale, but I say no despite all their money. I love respect. I respect people so I like being respected. I do what I have to do to have that respect. I do not try to impose myself on artists. I take their ideas into account. It’s very important that both sides win. Today, all artists who approach me do not want to know anything about the organization. They just want to know the price. “Sanmak, take, go on!”
You could have abandon yourself to the despair of the street. You could have give all up for the easy life. How did you do to hold on?
I am not religious, I adopt nothing but I trust in God. It’s him who gave me this potential and strength. And I am not jealous. If a loved one has an opportunity, I think its is his chance. It does not bother me. I try to respect life. I do good around myself. Everything I ever earned was always to help my family not to be in need. And that, I know there are young people who will not think that way. I have a lot of friends who do not see life like that.
I have something deep inside which reassures me, something who tells me that I’m great, that everyone will respect me. I just have to work. I don’t know exactly. I still have a lot to go through. I’m not there yet. I dedicate all my time to my work. I don’t do anything else. I always busy doing my work. I shoot everyday. I work day and night, i’m in post-production with my mates. My way to see the time is different. I am on a speed that I can’t explain. I don’t see life the same way as everybody.
I have something that is pushing me, that is pressuring, that tells me I have a lot of things to do, that tells me I am wasting time. Run! Run! Run! I will engrave my story in everyone’s head.I will engrave my story in everyone's head. Click To Tweet