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Remembering indie artist and disability rights activist Cola Boyy, dead at 34

(SOUNDBITE OF COLA BOYY SONG, "PENNY GIRL")

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Under the moniker Cola Boyy, musician Matthew Urango made catchy, '70s-influenced dance music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PENNY GIRL")

COLA BOYY: (Singing) Oh, no. To get back to you. Oh, no...

SHAPIRO: Urango collaborated with some big-name indie artists and was at work on his next album when he died earlier this week at the age of 34 at his home in Oxnard, Calif. No cause of death was announced. In addition to his music, he was known for his disability rights advocacy. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: It's maybe a testament to Matthew Urango's omnivorous music taste that one of the longest interviews with him you can find on YouTube is from 2022 with a show called HardLore. It was backstage shortly after Cola Boyy played a set at the hardcore festival Sound And Fury.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COLA BOYY: I think all the good hardcore bands that are, like - that pop off, especially that people resonate with...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah.

COLA BOYY: ...They have that, like, something that makes you feel like, I want to sing this [expletive]. And it's the same...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah.

COLA BOYY: ...With, like, my songs.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEIGE 70")

COLA BOYY: (Singing) Tonight you are a star. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

LIMBONG: Here's Urango's manager, Jack Sills.

JACK SILLS: His roots were in punk music, hardcore music. He was part of the Nardcore scene in Oxnard. That's kind of how he got into music.

LIMBONG: Urango was born with spina bifida, kyphosis and scoliosis. He also used a prosthetic leg. He did use his music to advocate for people with disabilities. The music video for the song you're hearing now, "Beige 70," takes place in a dark and smoky dance club. The vibes are primed for hooking up, and the club is populated by people of all sorts of different abilities. In the promotional copy for the video, Urango writes, quote, "you'll learn a lot about yourself when you take the chance to listen with your ears and not just stare at us with your eyes."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEIGE 70")

COLA BOYY: (Singing) You could make a plastic rose look like it grew from the ground.

LIMBONG: Sills says Urango toed the line between being an advocate without being boxed into a category because he just wanted to make physical, dance-oriented music.

SILLS: Sometimes, you know, he wouldn't have a band. He would just have a backing track, and it would just be him up there all alone. And he could just carry the crowd, and they would just hang on every word. And I think, you know, his natural charisma really allowed for that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T FORGET YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD")

COLA BOYY: (Singing) There's a time in life, yeah.

LIMBONG: And while Urango was recognized across the indie music scene, he'll likely be most deeply remembered in his hometown of Oxnard because he always remembered Oxnard.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T FORGET YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD")

COLA BOYY: (Singing) Don't forget your neighborhood. I love my neighborhood.

LIMBONG: Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLA BOYY SONG, "DON'T FORGET YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.
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