PICTURED: Cola Boyy. Photo by Jack Adams, @oxnardbadboy
“Sorry, you’re Cola Boyy, right? I was wondering if I could get a picture?”
An excited fan has approached our table near Heritage Square and asked Oxnard native Matthew Urango, aka Cola Boyy, for a photo. He obliges and I snap the pic.
“That wasn’t planned,” Cola Boyy, 29, says with a laugh.
Despite growing national (he just played Coachella this year) and international (his record label, Record Makers, is based in Paris) attention and acclaim, Cola Boyy is still very much an Oxnard local. And he makes it a point to use his growing platform to stand up for those in need from the area and speak out against police harassment of homeless people, increasing gentrification and the loss of community spaces.
That’s why the self-described “Disabled Disco Innovator” is curating a fundraiser for the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center this Friday, Aug. 30.
The PACC lost most of its funding from the City of Oxnard earlier this year and is at risk of closing — currently it has a subsidy to keep it afloat through December 2019 — but fundraisers like this could help it stay put for longer, and enable it to do more community programming.
“I worry about the community not having access to a venue like this,” says Carolyn Mullin, executive director. A longtime fan of Cola Boyy, she reached out to him about putting together the event. “I’m excited to open this facility for the amazing community and let him do what he does best,” Mullin says. “I’m impressed that he’s so dedicated to Oxnard; you don’t find many willing to stay here once reaching stardom.”
The all-ages event, which also will include art vendors and food pop-ups, is by donation and will feature local rapper Omega Nova, punk band Civil Conflict and DJ Xilla spinning a fusion of cumbia, funk and disco, along with L.A. trio the Arrowettes.
“All the acts performing, I know them personally,” he says. “It was really important for me to represent younger artists in Oxnard.”
And of course, Cola Boyy himself will be performing. The multinstrumenalist who released his funky disco pop EP, Black Boogie Neon, in 2017 will play a mix of older tracks and new songs he’s been recording for an upcoming full-length album.
While the music he’s currently creating as Cola Boyy is warm danceable pop — check out “Penny Girl” and the accompanying Oxnard-loving video — he got his start in hardcore and power-violence bands in the DIY “Nardcore” scene as a teen.
“In junior high I got into playing guitar and I was introduced to a lot of the punk kids, and they took me in,” he says.
He played in bands like FBA, El Mariachi and Only Child before joining fuzzy rockers Sea Lions. He learned recording from Sea Lions and later transitioned into the sound he’s making and recording now using a couple of synthesizers like a Roland GAIA, guitar, bass, laptop, and a microphone. He says that he doesn’t have the money to buy any “super dope” gear but it helps him get creative within his limitations, and “a good song is a good song,” no matter how it’s recorded.
He says his transition into a more disco-leaning sound was a natural move. “Being from Oxnard, we’re all pretty exposed to funk music but I never thought I’d be making it,” he says. “One day I decided to just try to make something funky, a little more on the dance and pop side, and listening back to the old stuff, the demos, I didn’t know what I was doing but it’s good because it turned into something more special — I think that’s the magic of music.”
While his lyrics aren’t always outwardly political, his politics are forever intertwined with his music. “I don’t want to divorce my music and my politics, but at the same time, I don’t want to use my politics as a gimmick,” he explains.
“At the end of the day, music is political, but we need more than words, we need action,” he says, suggesting people join political reading groups and have conversations in person, rather than fight on social media.
While Cola Boyy is clearly serious about his beliefs, the origin of his stage name is a bit fizzier. Around 2016, he was addicted to soda — seriously. At the same time, he was just starting to experiment with the funkified sound that would eventually be heard on Black Boogie Neon. He was hanging out with friends in New York and, without telling him, they put him down as Cola Boyy on a flier for a show. His moniker was cemented.
These days, Cola Boyy goes to Paris every few months to record with Record Makers. He also recorded a video in Paris that is uniquely his aesthetique. While the video for “Penny Girl” is a love letter to Oxnard, the video for “Beige 70” highlights something else that’s important to him: disabled person visibility. It features a funky, 1970s-looking nightclub with disabled people performing, dancing, really feeling his music.
“It was like, ‘oh, hey, there’s disabled people here,’ but it’s not, like, a tokenization. It’s not pity. It’s more like, this is how it should be, there shouldn’t be a separation between us, but also having fun with that idea.” He adds that there are some ridiculous elements to the video — “It’s a movie, you know?”
Being disabled can make touring a little more difficult, he says, but he loves to travel, perform, and meet people; he just needs to take care of himself and his health.
He says that in the past when he was away from home, he saw how easy it could be to get caught up in the hollowness of the music industry or lose sight of one’s priorities, but returning to Oxnard always re-grounds him in his beliefs and love for the local scene.
So who is Cola Boyy? A man of the people — especially the people of Oxnard.
Catch Cola Boyy at KickBack at the PACC on Friday, Aug. 30, 7-11 p.m. at the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center, 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard. For more information, call 805-486-2424 or visit www.oxnardperformingarts.com.