One night, while scrolling on Instagram in April 2022, I discovered Jnane Tamsna and immediately fell in love. So I convinced our team to design a Spring collection inspired by Marrakech and collectively embark on a journey to this magical property and its surrounding landscapes for our Spring 2023 campaign.
As we arrived, I was immediately struck by the vibrant colors, exquisite artwork and lush greenery that defined the property. However, I didn't just find a stunning location in Marrakech; I discovered the inspiring family who runs this unique place.
Meryanne Loum-Martin and Thaïs Sala, the mother-daughter duo and owners of Jnane Tamsna, welcomed me with open arms and shared their inspiring story of creating the first black-owned hotel in Marrakech. They live onsite together with Meryanne’s husband Gary Martin an ethnobotanist, university lecturer and founder of the Global Diversity Foundation. Meanwhile, their son Edward is doing a phd in Black Geographies at University of California Berkeley. What an impressive family!
From their commitment to design, music and heritage, to their passion for centering a rich cultural narrative, it was clear that Jnane Tamsna was much more than just a hotel. It was a reflection of Meryanne, Thaïs's and the entire family’s vision to create a space that celebrates sustainability, diversity, creativity, and community. In this interview, Meryanne and Thaïs share their journey, their values, and their hopes for the future of Jnane Tamsna.
Please, introduce yourself.
Thaïs: My artist name is Thaïs Sala, I identify first and foremost as a storyteller and my main medium these days is music. I sing and write songs but also compose poetry and am working on documenting my ancestral family history. I help run our family business, Jnane Tamsna, a farm to table boutique hotel in Marrakech with strong values of social and environmental sustainability.
Meryanne: My name is Meryanne Loum-Martin. I am French, of Senegalese and Guadeloupean descent. While I was a lawyer in Paris, in 1985, a trip to Marrakech triggered my childhood passion for architecture and interiors. I started spending one week a month in Marrakech and designed my first project, which opened in 1989. Boutique hospitality was a pioneering concept then and I was astonished by the success of my first wandering step into hospitality. I went on to do other projects until moving for good in Marrakech and buying this land covered with hundreds of old date palms. Here I built and designed Jnane Tamsna, our version of an organic lifestyle. I believe that this space defines me. At the crossroad of cultures while celebrating blackness and being opened to the world.
What makes Marrakech special for you?
Thaïs: The mix of people who have either never left or gone elsewhere and then returned (like myself) together with the many inspiring characters who pass by for the odd long weekend, art fair or music festival. There’s something special about the copper-tinted dusk light, the laid back yet rousing rhythm of life here, how there’s somehow order in the colorful, visceral chaos of the old city and the peace of the countryside existence we enjoy whilst being moments from the bustle of downtown.
Meryanne: It is the closest place next to Paris where I am from, which is just like our own family, a crossroad of culture and creativity, just like us from the African continent while being very diverse.
What does Jnane Tamsna represent for you?
Thaïs: First and foremost home, but one that I enjoy most of all when I get to share it with friends old and new, in moments of birdsong-filled bliss or the giggles of children playing in the gardens, the smell of bread fresh out the oven or the perfume of our basil plants heating in the summer sun. Jnane Tamsna represents harmonious co-existence with our natural environment. More than a co-existence, it’s a collaboration. Through our various initiatives and practices of social and environmental sustainability, it feels to me like we are working hand in hand with our landscape. This space represents balance and serenity, purpose and inspiration.
Meryanne: Jnane Tamsna represents what I always wanted to do, design and build a place connected to a cultural heritage of the African continent and that I could share with numerous guests.
Jnane Tamsna represents harmonious co-existence with our natural environment. More than a co-existence, it’s a collaboration.
How does running a business as a family make a difference?
Thaïs: People definitely appreciate the fact Jnane Tamsna is family run. My mother, my father and I love getting to know our amazing hotel guests, who come from across the globe and from all walks of life. Countless have said that our place feels like they’re on holiday at a friends’ vacation home, only with full service, an organic farm-to-table restaurant and meticulous design. Running it as a family and creating a bond with those who stay at Jnane Tamsna, makes people feel even more at home, regardless of how far they have come.
Meryanne: I am lucky that my daughter is creative and even though her creativity is more focused on music and writing, she has excellent taste, ideas and vision when it comes to hospitality. So we make a good team!
What dreams do you have for this property?
Thaïs: I would love to see an increasing amount of unique events, from intimate jazz concerts, to movie screenings under the stars, workshops, discussions, creative retreats and artist residencies, fill up our cultural calendar. I want the space to continue being the site of intentional and transformative convening.
Meryanne: Our guests always express how they love the people they meet here. My dream would be that Jnane Tamsna becomes an impactful tool helping build the immense construction site that is diversity and inclusion. Travel and shared experiences are a powerful bonding link and the energy of our place has created friendships between people who would never have socialized otherwise.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Thaïs: It’s a moment for both remembrance and looking forward. I think of my ancestors and how hard they fought and worked for a more equitable future, not just for their own descendants for their world. Black history month highlights a collective spirit and energy for me, a hive mind of memory that is bold, proud and wise despite injustice, and so much immeasurable hope and inspiration for all that we have done and continue to create and gift to the world. It’s a time of great pride and resilient celebration of the magic that always has and always will bloom, no matter the season, in the garden of the African continent and all the communities it has birthed.
Meryanne: I honor my ancestors all year long. When their contribution to the growth, strength and position of the US is erased, ignored, questioned, it should be the month where conversations exist publicly to describe the facts, to refuse to deny history. Beyond giving visibility to Black, Owned businesses, it should be a yearly rendez-vous to give visibility to History and contributions. It should be turned to the past and not try to shove it under the rug, pretending that all is OK now.
What does being Black mean to you?
Thaïs: Being lucky. Being blessed to carry the history and future belonging to an amazingly diverse and complex global community of resilient and beautiful people.
Meryanne: Really too much to express. For those descending from enslaved people like me, it is about honoring the genes of those who refused to die. It is about celebrating with pride and respecting their resilience. It is about inspiring younger generations that yes, all is possible.It is about being at the crossroad of two worlds. The White world where we often excel in their school systems and being in our Black world which brings warmth, creativity and limitless hope.
For those descending from enslaved people like me, it is about honoring the genes of those who refused to die. It is about celebrating with pride and respecting their resilience. It is about inspiring younger generations that yes, all is possible.
How does your property celebrate Black excellence?
Thaïs: The literary retreats, called Philoxenia, which we have co-founded with Parea books are an incredible opportunity to create bonds, hopefully ones to last a lifetime, between authors of color and their fellow storytellers, together with brilliant minds starting out and in search of mentorship. So much of my understanding of blackness is grounded in community, and fostering that connection is quintessential to our business’ celebration of Black excellence.
Meryanne: As we are accidental hoteliers, we bring into the hotel life things that we have a passion for, so we can enjoy it too. We host literature retreats for example. During these blissful days, the creative energy of young Black writers resonates as they are having access to amazing writers. We have used this space to sponsor HBCU young authors. At the last retreat, one fellow had never left Georgia, never taken a plane and never traveled domestically. Imagine when you are able to make this happen and that on top this young person spends the whole stay with the essence of excellence and representation, how it can impact and inspire. Access is key and this is one of the ways we celebrate Black excellence. We have in store all sorts of retreats and residencies focused on giving access.
How can we support the legacy you are building?
Meryanne & Thaïs: By helping us increase our visibility and participate in our events. Having been the backdrop of your fabulous collection was the best tribute to our efforts, our vision and our philosophy. We also so much appreciate that you were able to support a fellow of our Philoxenia Retreats. Philoxenia in Greek means a space where people arrive as strangers and leave as friends. This is the magic of our hotel and this is why it should be used to advance the matters of diversity and inclusion.
I have immense gratitude for the time we spent in this luxurious hotel in Marrakech, Jnane Tamsna. The moments spent engaging with Meryanne, Thaïs, Gary and Edward on beautiful conversations centered on a wide range of topics from inclusive design to sustainable gardening were so inspiring and fulfilling. This family definitely left a mark on my heart and I can’t wait to return and enjoy more time with them. Meryanne is also an incredible writer and designer and I can still feel connected to her magical mind through her coffee table book linked below. I have been carrying it with me everywhere and it’s a reminder that Marrakech is a place I will keep returning to over and over again. A never ending love story!