It’s a chilly Saturday afternoon in Reykjavik. Though the sun only rose a few hours ago, it will be heading toward sunset by the time I arrive to interview disco artist and activist Matthew Urango, aka Cola Boyy, at Jorgenson Kitchen Bar & Grill. It’s a clean, well lighted place that seems the exact opposite of Urango’s music—dirty, sexy, drum-driven, disco tracks that make you want to dance.
“Organizing takes a lot of time, a lot of sacrifice.”
Cola Boyy was flying from Paris this time the day before, and it’s been less than 12 hours since I saw him perform with a band on stage as part of the Iceland Airwaves 20th Anniversary festival. He seems a bit tired, but polite and eager to talk about a myriad of topics from disco, to the creative process, to working as a disabled and Afro-Latino artist, to fighting ICE from his backyard hometown of Oxnard, California. Yes, also hometown to artists Anderson .Paak and Madlib.
Oxnard, California is also home to the one of the largest strawberry festivals, which as an activist fighting for better working and living conditions for workers, Cola Boyy is quick to point out is ripe (pun intended) with the exploitation of the majority 85% Hispanic community. Still, he participates as much as he can with two local activist groups, Todo Poder al Pueblo and Anarchist People of Colour (APOC). He adds, that perseverance and attitude is required when it comes to activism, “Organizing takes a lot of time, a lot of sacrifice.”
Most recently, when we met the week after election day in the US, he’s lamenting the voters’ rejection of Prop 10 in California, which would have expanded the amount of rent-controlled real estate. “There should be no question that rent control should exist.. And it didn’t pass... it’s complicated. Rich people put mad money in these campaigns to push out. There was a big campaign against Prop 10, making up all these lies about how rent control would make things more expensive and all this bullshit. So I was seeing like working class people, that I know, start saying like, “No on Prop 10” basing it off some stupid Instagram post... and it’s so frustrating. So I mean I never get my hopes up for this stuff.” But he’s got no real beef with Instagram, after all, it is how his label, Record Makers, found him.
'It’s gonna be a mix of stuff. It’s gonna be funky and danceable." - on the new album
Record Makers, an independent label based in Paris has been around since 2000. Despite the distance from his California hometown and his hatred for flying, Cola Boyy has nothing but praise for his French label. “I’ve been in Paris four times this year...I love coming there.”
On their work together and his debut EP release Black Boogie Neon, he adds, “We kind of like uh, we were still-- I was still new to knowing my label and they were new to knowing me. And they’re my label but we work closely together on the projects. I’m really happy with the label. Most of my friends on labels back in the states, I never hear good stories. With my label, they’re so nice and take care of me, but they also have perspective on music and we work together on putting together these projects.”
Black Boogie Neon, an impressive 5 track debut, was the product of a two year process with his label. As his direction turns toward his debut LP, I ask about the process and what he anticipates for the album. “It’s gonna be a mix of stuff. It’s gonna be funky and danceable. One of the songs I played live last night is gonna be on the album. And yeah there’s some really cool collaborations happening for it that I’m excited about, yeah.”
"My body[...]can be pretty fragile, especially as I get older. So now a days I have to be quite selective about, like how much touring I do"- on travelling as an artist with a disability.
A large part of working as a musician full time involves travel and touring. As a disabled artist, touring can be very taxing on Cola Boyy and his physical health. “It’s rough touring [the] US, compared to other places in the world. I mean, I think it’s spread out, you always end up sleeping on the floor, like a lot, and a lot of driving. My body, is pretty-- can be pretty fragile, especially as I get older. So now a days I have to be quite selective about, like how much touring I do, you know? It’s cool because my label and my agents are very aware.”
Born with the condition known as Spina Bifida, Cola Boyy discovered on a tour that altitude really affects his ability to breathe. He discovered this threshold while traveling as a supporting act with MGMT, that after doing a night in Tennessee and then in Atlanta, he woke up struggling and realized the altitude clocking in around 1500 feet above sea level was the problem. Altitude changes are taxing on nearly anyone, but really exasperate his fragile system. He jokes that the only way he could get to perform at a destination like Mexico City, which he loves the idea of, would involve some kind of performance equipped with an oxygen mask. Taking a sip of his coke, he laughs, “I was lucky when I looked up the altitude here,” he gestures out the rainy window toward Laugavegur, the main road through Reykjavik, “Thank goodness, it’s only 55 feet above sea level. So I was like, I can do it. Because, once it hits 1000, I can’t handle it, you know.”
2019 will usher in more opportunity for Cola Boyy’s rise as a definitive force in the disco world and beyond. He was recently announced as one of the first acts to perform at this year’s Coachella festival in April. For Cincinnati based fans who aren’t able to make the pilgrimage to California, there will also be the opportunity to catch Cola Boyy at Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, Michigan in June.
You can purchase his EP Black Boogie Neon digitally and on vinyl on bandcamp at and follow him on twitter or Instagram @colaboyy . His music videos are available on his label Record Makers YouTube channel at , including the latest for his track, “Beige 70.”