Joel Santiago 

is a recording and performing artist, producer, and songwriter/composer, among other artistic mediums. His father and long-time minister of music Rev. Carlos Santiago is also a recording artist/producer having completed two Gospel albums, leading on guitar, all of which exposed Joel to music at an early age. 


Joel began playing percussion at the age of three, played drums in the church on Sundays by the age of six, and started receiving professional instruction in drums, music studies, and theory at the age of twelve, at Victor Litz where his dad taught guitar. After a year-long of private lessons with John Zidar, Joel was admitted to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC where he majored drums and percussion in the music department under Francis Thompson. Some of his other teachers have been Carlos Caro, Hector "Coco" Barez, Alfredo Mojica, Renee Ibanez, and Masaga Wolf.  Joel is currently endorsed with The Grombal Company.


Joel is an avid educator and has taught music at several local music academies such as All About Music in Towson Maryland, Center Stage Theatre in Baltimore, and at local public and charter schools in Maryland and DC. Through his company Iyoel Music LLC, he provides Arts enrichment services and programs in the DC and Baltimore metropolitan regions.

Joel is an event curator and is currently an artist in residence at Bar Vasquez in Baltimore, MD where he features international artists in the music of the Latin American diaspora. Besides this, Joel hosts a live jam session in Baltimore every Tuesday, and has a weekly acoustic reggae set every Wednesday. Check the SCHEDULE page for more on his upcoming events and shows. Joel has performed and recorded drums, percussion, and guitar extensively on his projects and alongside others, in the genres of Jazz, Reggae, Gospel, Salsa, Bachata, and R&B. Some of the people he has worked with include Il'a Benjamin and Ila Vibez Band, Roots Radics, Khalid Thompson, Benito Gonzales, Theljon Allen, Herb Scott, Clarence Ward III, Leonardo Lucini, Sin Miedo Salsa Orchestra, Bachata Plus, Laura Sousa, Alfredo Mojica and friends, Antonio Luis Orta, Jorga Mesfin, and Mulato  Astatke’s Asli Ethio-jazz. Joel has also played leading roles in productions featuring some of the areas most prominent producers including Blaqstar, Kariz Marcel, Jay “Funk” Carter, Nate Middleman, Jim Fox, Ricky "Swan" Richardson, and Joe Cooper. 


Joel's leadership has been responsible for formulating diverse groups in different genres to cover venues ranging from gospel, Latin and jazz, to reggae, hip-hop and contemporary R&B. Joel is co-director of Rufftone Productions, where he works alongside master engineer and producer Ricky “Swan” Richardson. His goal is not only to create quality music, but to provide professional quality music production as a service on an audio, video, and media level by formulating diverse teams to approach projects with a distinct taste and authenticity.



I have to search … I seek to find … not just a sound or a technical expression resulting from extensive practice, but a feeling of release, and relief - I call it freedom. And it’s just as much an internal search and quest as it is a spiritual stretch about as far out as my mind can possibly go. And when I feel that I’ve been able to achieve this expression through my music - when the combination of preparation, environmental/musical support, and inspiration connects, I feel that I’m understanding something deep and that I’m also being deeply understood. Then, when this is achieved - maybe - I’m doing my musical ancestors and muses some justice and they can stare down in approval. Then, maybe, I’m ready for some more information and I’m ready to experience a deeper feeling that can bring me closer to God and humanity … closer to life and nature … maybe even closer to love and embrace. At the very least it can bring me closer to my Self.


This may be a lot to say of music that can sometimes be simply classified by genre and subjected to quick categorization. Yet, this explanation is not to take anything away from the genres which I practice. I love Jazz, I love Bomba, Plena, Merengue, Guaguanco and Yambu, and the 100+ other Yoruba diasporic expressions … I love Latin, Reggae, and Blues and I love to express them in their full authenticity - bringing to life a rich history and culture - being honored to feel what all of my greatest inspirations have felt in their truest language and expression. In interpreting these standards - just as in writing a new lyric or composition in any style - the idea is to add new elements which can most sincerely express what I feel, and share the summation of what I have learned and experienced on this short journey: all of the happiness, the joy, and the pain. In this feeling, maybe my listeners and vicarious participants can relate, and also feel what I feel, and we can all experience the embrace together in one moment. 


My current works are my greatest joy and challenge. Working together with musicians and arrangers I admire most, I have been aiming to bring many Yoruba classics to life in instrumental music, challenging the instruments through complex harmonies and rhythm, to carry the feeling of a chorus of voices and ancient cadences and tumbao. In this Latin-jazz project, we also explore original compositions that reflect a story of the times, merging both the old and the new. Apart from this collective work in progress, my current solo project is a fusion of all of the styles and experiences that have influenced me in the last 10+ years - from the church, cathedral, to the jazz club … to the street and beyond. In it, I have the pleasure of writing lyrics and using my voice as a vehicle to navigate through dynamic chord changes in diverse pulses and meters. The intent is to be able to connect with everyone in some way; at that place where our experience meets, and where a collective vision and feeling is shared.