Sitting in a hotel room in Mexico, the Dominican-born, Miami-bred DJ and producer known as Happy Colors pauses and thinks for a moment. At our request, he's trying to identify the early roots of his carefree, rebellious attitude — the same attitude that inspired songs like "Con Ese Culazo," "Mamagüevo," and "Cuando Cago Yo La Pinga Mia Toca El Agua," tracks with English translations raunchy enough to make the entire Bible Belt blush.
After a moment, the 23-year-old settles on an answer. “That’s always been me," he says plainly. "Everyone always knew I didn’t give a fuck. Even in school, I was the one who the other kids would say: ‘That nigga’s weird.’ And now I do it with my music.”
Happy Colors, real name Hector Mendoza, moved from the Dominican Republic to South Florida in 2004 at the age of twelve, where he attended school in Pompano and Fort Lauderdale. These days you can find him a little farther south, in his adopted home of Miami.
“I’ll never move away from Miami, man. It’s like the Caribbean, like Cuba and the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico all wrapped in one. We’re just speaking English there.”
Mendoza still remembers the very early days of his journey into the Miami music scene, which he describes as "legendary." He had a residency at the now-defunct Club Mekka. "I used to play for like 16-year-olds. It was all ages."
But it was the attention of the older crowd that eventually led Mendoza to bigger and better things. He knew he was doing something right when industry heavyweights — specifically Broward County's own Diplo — started playing his music at festivals. From there, momentum (and the all powerful internet) grabbed a hold of Mendoza, and things haven't slowed since.
Mendoza is a man who wears his emotions — usually some form of excitement — on his sleeve, and this quality has ingratiated him to a global audience of electronic music fans. In a muddy field of electronic producers, what sets him apart from other big-room and festival DJs is his insistence on incorporating diverse Latin rhythms into a genre that can often feel formulaic — and, with its hordes of white men, less than diverse.
"I love celebrating the culture," Mendoza admits. "I'm proud as fuck, and it's what makes me different as a DJ. It makes me feel cool. I'm going to bring something different to every show that I do because a lot of people are making music and it's boring — they aren't even happy making it."
That celebration of culture eventually landed Mendoza a dream gig when legendary salsa imprint Fania Records reached out to him and asked if he'd be down to rework Celia Cruz's "Virgencita." The remix would be part of the label's Calentura compilation, in which Fania asked contemporary DJs and producers to breathe new life into its incredible catalogue of salsa classics. Needless to say, being handed a Celia Cruz classic is a task as flattering as it is terrifying, but Mendoza isn't one to let his nerves get the best of him.
"That was like a dream to me. I've always sampled old merengue and salsa, so having Fania hit me up was fucking dope. I'm glad they pay attention to the new artists and wanted us to revive the sound."
He takes another pull from a joint before finishing his thought with a wide smile. "And I'm glad they gave us permission to use their shit."
This last year has all been a bit surreal for Mendoza. But a few months ago, just as the electronic scene began to embrace him with open arms, he woke up to some even bigger news he never expected.
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"I always wake up late, and one day my phone was blowing up. I ignored it at first, but eventually I open it and I see a bunch of congratulations, and a friend sent me a picture of the Grammy announcement. I just went and took a shower. I thought it was a dream until later that night."
And just like that, Mendoza, who has a song title that literally translates to "when I shit, my dick touches the water," suddenly found himself hoisted into the mainstream, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Yandel, Alexis y Fido, and more for Best Urban/Fusion Performance. What's even more fitting is how the Grammy-nominated El Dusty collaboration, "Cumbia Anthem," came about.
“We made that song the first time we ever even chilled," Mendoza says, a bit in disbelief himself. "He hit me up and asked if I knew someone who got weed in Miami. He told me to come to the studio. I brought my PC and we made like five tracks.”
Another pull from the joint and he adds, “We never thought that song was going to blow up like it did. We just did it to make music.”