Raíces Cultural Center &
Raíces Folkloric Ensemble
Francisco G. Gómez - Director
Francisco is Director and co-founder of the Raíces Cultural Center in New Brunswick, NJ. As a child his interest in stringed instruments began in Saint Charles Bormeo Parochial School – Newark, NJ where he coincidentally came across a guitar class being taught by the parish priest Father Carrol. This happenstance would be the moment that Francisco fell in love with music and developed a passion for the guitar that later lead to a lifelong study of a variety of musical instruments.
In the early part of the 1960’s he began to accompany his Grandfather on the guitar and later learned the cuban Tres with him. His abuelo, Francisco Sr., was his first inspiration, introducing and teaching him cuban music.
As his studies of guitar and Tres continued well into the decade, in the later 60s Francisco founded and directed Orchesta Cultural, a conjunto style ensemble, while in his late teens. He also performed with musicians such as the enigmatic cuatrista Tuto Feliciano, one of the top 25 cuatristas in Puerto Rico, and the bassist Manny Borges, a well known musician in central NJ, and a few other prominent Jersey musicians of the period.
In the early 1970’s, after a two year draft obligation in the US Army, he began to travel to Puerto Rico where he accompanied his uncles Pedro and Benjamin on the guitar, and they taught him the Puertorican Cuatro. His uncle Kike was a master Trovador in Jíbaro music and a vocal inspiration for Francisco. By the mid 70s he would also venture down to Loiza from his Mother’s island home in Rio Grande with his great uncle Pipe, a lover of African dance and culture. There he was introduced and fell in love with Bomba and Plena. Francisco’s love of these autochthonous genres of Puertorican music lead him to study the works, from afar, of the premier masters of the music and dance traditions, the well known Ayala and Cepeda families.
As a result of this experience, a few years later in the 1980’s, he briefly enrolled in the Johnny Colón School of Music in El Barrio East Harlem to study what would then be called Salsa. His curiosity about the origins of Salsa lead Francisco to seek out teachers of the barril and pandero, not an easy task in that period, since while these instruments were known they were not widely popular in NJ. This eventually led him to the Boys Harbor, also in East Harlem, where he continued his studies, also for a short time. Francisco continued researching and studying the history of a variety of African drums and their role in community and cultural cohesion and enrichment.
In 2008, Francisco wanted to share and spread his love and knowledge of music and culture, so he co-founded Raíces Cultural Center, and he became music director of the organization’s student components and musical ensemble, continuing to do so till this day. His work nurturing and disseminating the music, history and culture of the Caribbean is a realization of a 30+ years dream of having a cultural center comprised of a number of different branches that have exceeded his expectations.
Of the many workshops, lectures and other venues that he has authored, produced and directed throughout the years, his fondest memories are of his productions featuring the music, song, dance and traditions of the Caribbean, “Los Vejigantes de Puerto Rico”, “The Spirit of the Drum: History and Evolution of an Afro-Caribbean Tradition”, “Festival for the Dead” and “Orishas: A Tale of Two Waters”.
These artistic accomplishments are now coupled with the relatively new digital branch of Raíces that Francisco calls “Her/His Stories,” under told or untold stories that are now being documented on a variety of topics that were once mostly written about by academicians and not the people who birthed their genesis!
Francisco has always felt that education was and is important, but that learning and tenacity have always been the keys to acquire knowledge and prowess in what an individual desires to do in life, especially in lesser known cultural spaces. Also, that there are far more cultural truths, expertise and authenticity to be found in the communities where they began and were passed on to successive generations of practitioners and culture bearers.
2022 was a milestone for Francisco and the Raíces Crew, having received Honorable Mention through the Stanley Katz Prize for Excellence in Public Humanities for their Raíces Roots Music Digital Exhibit Series. This honor was a signature moment for Francisco in what he calls “Street Stories,” and an achievement for all the members of the Raíces Cultural Center.
Now at the age of 70, Francisco continues to create, develop and teach his passions: the music, history and culture of Puerto Rico and Cuba and community story telling! He has opened his doors to also include many other Spanish speaking countries, their music, culture and their adaptations in the diaspora.