Joel Rafael

Black and white image of Joel Rafael crouching and strumming his guitar next to a large dog. The dog and Joel are looking at each other.
Photo by Grant James

The best writing comes from writing what you know – and based on Joel Rafael’s life experiences and over 50 years of making music, he has a deep well from which to draw. He has chronicled his life and the world around him with songwriting rooted in the folk tradition; and no influence is more obvious in his work than that of Woody Guthrie. Rafael is among the best Woody Guthrie students, proponents and interpreters we have.

In 2012, the International Acoustic Music Association awarded Folk Song of the Year to the Guthrie-Rafael collaboration, “Dance Around My Atom Fire,” from America Come Home (Inside Recordings 2012). His co-write with Jason Mraz, “Under Our Skin,” from Rose Avenue (Inside Recordings 2019), was awarded IAMA Best Group or Duo. Rafael’s song “Sierra Blanca Massacre” is featured in the film Linda and The Mockingbirds (2020) and his song “El Bracero” is featured in the film Song For Cesar (2022).

The songs of Joel Rafael conceal passionate messages within graceful melodies. He began performing in showcases and small clubs around Southern California in the early 70s. In 1981, he toured with Jesse Colin Young, and released his debut album, Dharma Bums. Rafael won Kerrville’s new folk award in 1995 and gained national airplay with the seminal Joel Rafael Band, touring the southwest with Joan Baez in 2003. Rafael has been a featured performer at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival every year since its inception in 1998.

“In the society of illusion, reality must manifest itself. The story songs of Joel Rafael are that manifestation… the essence of minstrel.” – John Trudell

“Joel Rafael’s songs are filled with passion and compassion; passion for social justice and compassion for those among us who have to struggle for a place at the table of American prosperity. His voice is unmistakably his own, big, warm and strong, and a conductor for the human emotions that connect us all.” – Jackson Browne