Marching to the beat of Kenyan drums

Barbara Lawlor, Nederland.  When the guests entered the recently completed three-story building on Big Springs Drive, they were greeted by the beat of multiple drums and the scent of Africa in the air. It was the grand opening of 80 Big Springs, a multi-use office/ warehouse building that has been under construction for the past two years.

Located next to the Black Forest Restaurant, across the street from the upper level of the shopping center, the building is the dream come true for Steve Karowe who says he has been thinking about this day for the past 25 years.


Karowe is the founder and CEO of African Market Baskets which imports hand woven baskets from Bolgatanga, supporting over 1,000 weavers and their families. The Overseas Connection Ltd. also imports African percussion instruments, including djembe drums from Mali and the Ivory Coast, gonkogwe bells, shakerees and other African hand percussion items.


The success of his import business precipitated the need for expansion and he decided to move his business from Boulder to Nederland, where he and his wife Jen and their two children reside. Nederland is their community and their goal is to incorporate their business to accommodate some of the needs of the town.


On Thursday, August 10, the Karowes made it official, the building was open for business.


Officer manager Hillary Katz greeted visitors with a tour of the warehouse and offices. Most of the bottom floor is taken up by the Overseas Connection and African Market Baskets. The warehouse includes shelves that reach the top of the third floor ceiling and are filled with vibrantly colored woven baskets from Ghana and drums from Mali.


The musky, organic aroma that fills the large space is from the goat skins on the drums and the grasses that make up the baskets. “It’s like breathing in Africa,” says Katz. “About 70 percent of our sales are from the baskets. We distribute them all over the US and Canada and in stores like Whole Foods and Luckies.”


Gourd shakers and other hand instruments are also donated to local schools’ music programs as well as to educational products companies. Deliveries arrive about every six weeks from Ghana. The shipments go from Ghana to Antwerp to Houston by train, to Denver by truck and then to Nederland.


Master Drummer from Mali Abdoul Karim Doumbi and local drummer Scott Messersmith walked through the drum aisles, dwarfed by the towering stacks of instruments which are tuned and polished before being sold and shipped. Doumbi smiled with pleasure as he tapped the djembe drums, which are polished with shea butter.


Katz says she has worked for Karowe for the past three years in Boulder and loves that she now works and lives in the same town. The entire staff lives in Nederland.


Dylan Banner, the drum guy who tunes and polishes, has worked for Karowe for 12 years and is solely responsible for the care taking and upkeep of the drums. He has his own studio for the process. Amongst the various drums are an assortment of percussion instruments, including bells that are made from car bumpers.

Sharing the downstairs space is Scott Franklin, owner of Lumos. Also a longtime Nederland resident, Franklin makes solar panel structures and his portion of the first floor is given over to research and development of his solar products. He says he has lived in Ned for years and has been looking for a place like the one at 80 Big Springs.


One part of his company is office space and the other is a floor to ceiling workshop.


“It was such a surprise to have this here,” he says. “It is brand new, perfect for my needs. I took a look at it on a Friday and it was a done deal by Sunday. We moved in here in June.”


Franklin says the space allows him to build prototypes. One of them is a carport structure which they build in the workshop to test. At the entrance to the office space is a large gong which is rung whenever the company gets a large contract.

On the second floor is NedHub which will be open in September, a place where people can work where they live. It is a membership based co-op with wifi, tables, copiers, chairs, outlets Katz says, “If you telecommute or work in Boulder and need a place to get out of the house or work in town, NedHub is the place to network and spend time in a workplace type atmosphere in your home town. The space is also available to rent for community events such as the DDA special meeting that is taking place on August 17 at 5:30 p.m.


The meeting is open to all businesses, home-based and brick/mortar stores of all sizes and types. This first ever will be to network and explore ideas on the trainings and workshops that would benefit one’s business. Representatives from the Small Business Development Center and the Colorado Disaster Recovery Program will be available to answer questions.


Also on the second floor, the Mike Massa portion of Accounting Specialists has set up new offices. Massa and Eugene D’Allendro, his partner worked out of the building now occupied by Happy Trails for 18 years and then moved to above the New Moon for the past 14 years. The business outgrew the space and the two partners have separated their offices, but are still one company.


“This was an opportunity to be in our space; we were getting too cramped in the other place. It is more efficient to have our own offices. There are nine of us here and eight in the former space, which has been reworked.”


Massa says that Karowe recruited him to move in, needing an anchor business to stabilize the facility. As nice as the new digs are, Massa says that many people come in and say they miss the funky atmosphere of the old place.


“I’m over the funky,” says Massa. He says Jake Schrader is his new leadership partner and will have the opportunity to put together his own crew in a great place to work. The employees laid out the space the way they wanted it and even have a meeting and breaking bread room.


“This is a whole new beginning for the next generation and I need to start scaling back,” says Massa. “I don’t need to work as hard as I have for the past 40 years. Eugene and I are best friends and now we will get to hang out more.”


Besides the professional convenience, Massa also boasts having a corner office that looks onto the mountains with a deck off the sliding glass doors. He says the Karowes have been long time clients and have come up with a thoughtful, rendering of a highly useful space in Nederland.


“They are quality folks and it is good to be associated with them.”


After the tour of the building, visitors gathered at NedHub to enjoy appetizers and wine and the drum ensemble that soon had Steve and Jen Karowe dancing to the African beat, the sound of the culture that inspired the building at 80 Big Springs.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.