The saying is – the best writing comes from writing what you know – and based on Joel Rafael’s life experiences and 50 or so years of making music, he has a deep well from which to draw. Armed with a harmonica rack and an acoustic guitar, Rafael chronicles his life and the world around him with songs rooted in the American folk tradition, and influenced by Woody Guthrie, with whom he shares five co-writes.
“Joel Rafael’s songs are filled with passion and compassion,” says Jackson Browne. “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.”
From a providential meeting at Peace Sunday, a concert to promote nuclear disarmament at the Rose Bowl on June 6, 1982, after hearing John Trudell speak, Rafael became an advocate for Indigenous Rights, sharing John’s words, and following his trail, until the emergence of the seminal Joel Rafael Band in 1994 resulted in regular co-bookings with Trudell and his band Bad Dog, and opportunities to write together. After John’s transition to the spirit world in December 2015, the band asked Joel to carry on Trudell’s work by performing with them.
John Trudell (1946-2015) was a leader for the Indian of All Tribes Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, and went on to serve as Chairman of the American Indian Movement (AIM) from 1973-1979. On February 11, 1979, he burned an American flag on the steps of the F.B.I J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington D.C., as he’d been taught in the military to burn the flag once it had been desecrated; and the US government’s treatment of Native Americans and its classism and racism had desecrated the flag. Some 12 hours after the flag incident, a fire “of suspicious origin” burned down Trudell’s home on the Shoshone-Paiute reservation in Nevada, killing Trudell’s pregnant wife, Tina, their three children and Tina’s mother. The F.B.I. declined to investigate, and the blaze was officially ruled an “accident.” After the fire, Trudell turned his tears into writing poetry and later, spoken word music and acting. A lifelong activist and human rights advocate, he was quoted as saying “I’m just a human being trying to make it in a world that is rapidly losing its understanding of being human.”