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Cola Boyy, Pop Singer-Songwriter and Activist, Dies at 34

Matthew Urango aka Cola Boyy, photo courtesy of Zinglyng and Record Makers

Matthew Urango, the pop singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and vocal activist who made music as Cola Boyy, has died. “The one and only Cola Boyy a.k.a Matthew Urango passed peacefully last Sunday,” the musician’s label, Record Makers, said in a statement. “He was quite a soul, a man with no age, a childlike spirit with the musicality of an old legend. His lyrics, his melodies, the sound of his voice: every side of his music was unique and timeless.” Urango was 34 years old.

“Anyone who knew Matthew knows he had a larger than life personality,” Cola Boyy’s manager, Jack Sills, wrote on Instagram. “He was always the life of the party and could chop it up with anyone. He was also one of the most talented and down to earth people I’ve ever met. His humor and natural charisma endeared him to whoever he met. Matthew cared enormously for his family, friends and community which he often expressed through his music. He had just finished his next album and was excited to start releasing new music this summer. I will continue to work with his family and @recordmakers to make sure this happens. Love you homie. Cola Boyy Forever!”

Matthew Urango was born and raised in Oxnard, California. Growing up, he found himself enmeshed in the city’s punk scene, and, while he enjoyed the community (“The punks that I met when I was in junior high were really nice to me,” he recalled), he was drawn more toward Oxnard’s experimental pop offerings, playing bass in the indie-pop group Sea Lions. “Those were very formative years for me,” Urango said of his Sea Lions days in a 2018 interview. “Playing music and traveling. Getting out of Oxnard. But at the same time pop music was really what was in my head.”

After leaving Sea Lions, Urango signed a deal with Record Makers, the French label co-founded by Air. He released his debut EP, Black Boogie Neon, in September 2018. The disco-pop EP featured included the standout songs “Penny Girl” and “Buggy Tip” among its five tracks. “What pushed me towards disco had much to do with the songs just being so good,” Urango explained of his genre leanings. “In general, great songs were being written during this era of music. Man, the production was so great. It was so innovative, funky and glamorous, but at times very street in its own weird way.”

As his music grew in popularity, Urango maintained his work as an activist, imbuing his songs with his politics. “There’s a sort of little extra song at the end of ‘Buggy Tip’ with piano and strings. That part is about my girlfriend, and me saying even though we are in romance, we must remain dedicated to our organizing,” he revealed. “The love we have should extend out and be a part of what fuels us to keep struggling in a revolutionary sense.”

The “organizing” to which Urango alluded included his work with Todo Poder al Pueblo, a leftist collective that, in its own words, fights “for the self-defense and empowerment of our community as a response towards the escalation of repressive measures aimed at migrantes, families and workers.”

Urango’s politics were also informed by the conditions with which he was born: spina bifida, kyphosis, and scoliosis. “Not a lot of artists are visibly disabled,” he once told an interviewer. “Society wants us to stay inside and to be timid and docile, and to not feel confident, or cool, or sexy. They just don’t want us to feel any of that, you know? So, in my life, that often weighed me down, but it didn’t ever stop me, I’ve always been a very outgoing person but still not the most confident, I’m still very critical of myself.”

Urango lived with a prosthetic leg, and he referenced the experience with the title of his debut Cola Boyy album, 2021’s Prosthetic Boombox. The album followed a notable guest appearance alongside the Clash’s Mick Jones on the Avalanches’ “We Go On.” It also boasted collaborations with several notable artists, such as the Avalanches, Air’s Nicolas Godin, John Carroll Kirby, and MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden.

Artists have shared tributes in honor of Cola Boyy, including Chromeo, Cloud Nothings, Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis, St. Panther, Webbed Wing’s Taylor Madison, and Dead Heat. “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our friend and collaborator Matthew Urango @ColaBoyy,” the Avalanches wrote on X. “Matthew was the most effervescent hilarious talented &passionate guy you could ever meet. He was a man of his convictions and of his word. He will be greatly missed by so many and we send all our love today to his friends and family.”

Originally Appeared on Pitchfork