This essay, based in large part on local oral history, uncovers the lived experience of the rural and urban popular sectors who participated in the 1970s marijuana boom along the northernmost section of the Colombian Caribbean coast. In particular, the piece narrates how the country's first class of illegal drugs merchants helped shape a key element of modern Colombian nationalism by promoting vallenato music on the local stage and hastening its conquest of the national market and imaginary in the 1970s. Marijuana intermediaries — popularly known as marimberos — sprang into action from the most marginalized rural and urban sectors of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and La Guajira region. Soon they constituted a new entrepreneurial class whose profile as successful merchants was articulated as a regional masculine identity found in popular expressions such as vallenato music. That process helped marimberos to open space for themselves in regional society and to turn vallenato into a supreme expression of Colombian popular culture. This essay examines that cultural-political process while seeking to explain why the marimberos' role in vallenato's history has been largely erased from national memory.

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