“I am a good Diasporan,” smiles Mohamed Bonkoungou, who works in Harlem, lives in the Bronx but was born in the Ivory Coast in 1973. With family also in Burkina Faso, the chef, radio DJ and community activist has big plans to inform and unite the global community.
He goes by the name of DJ Momo and hosts a magazine radio show on WHCR 90.3FM every Tuesday from 2-4 p.m. More than just hip-hop, R&B and music from the Continent, Bonkoungou’s “News and Views from Africa” also brings current news and interviews from all over Africa.
“If you’re proud of your nationality, we have to do our best to represent and to unite with each other,” Bonkoungou told the Amsterdam News. “We have to do our best and try and bring change to things back home, so that where there needs to be improvement we can make it happen, and wherever there is corruption, we can end that too. There is not always enough done to really help Africa at a real on-the-ground level.
“There are the wars where some women are raped; where some children have lost their parents – we can be more united to do our best things to change for them.”
A chef by day in Manna’s restaurant on Frederick Douglas Boulevard in Harlem, with 10 years on the radio, Bonkoungou the activist wants Africans in the Diaspora and continental Africans to forge a deep and lasting bond.
The news stories of divisions are greatly exaggerated, Bonkoungou insists. “In the U.S., we can have a great relationship where we have one office to represent both African-Americans and Africans. So many of our issues are the same, but we find ourselves in different places for the same thing. We all want unity.”
Bonkoungou said that he has traveled to four or five countries in Africa, including Burkina Faso, “where my grandparents are from. I went to Ghana for vacation, and to Mali, to Togo and to Benin.”
The man speaks French, English, Mandingo and Moree.
“I came to the U.S. as a cook for the Burkina Faso embassy in New York,” said Bonkoungou. “I left there for school and I began studying broadcast journalism in Pennsylvania.”
He said he’s now at City College studying broadcast journalism.
“I do it because I like it, and in the future I want to give the people information about education and subjects that they cannot hear anywhere else,” Bonkoungou said.
As for his own radio show, proudly he beamed, he does just that now and “we also have a call-in section to discuss life topics, issues that people are concerned with, especially what’s going on with the African continent. We broadcast in French and English. We receive the information and we create the questions.
“We discuss issues such as immigration. It’s all about education and how you can help yourself with whatever you know is wrong. You can let the listeners hear and they can learn how to fix any problem. Not so much on domestic problems–not so much on air,” Bonkoungou edited himself, “because people can get excited, so we have to find a way to calm them down…it’s too much sometimes!”
Listeners on the Internet include folk as close as Chicago and as far as Paris, France, the Caribbean and parts of the Continent.
“They call long distance and they are concerned about what’s going on in New York and they give us information.”
Reflecting, Bonkoungou added, “I was a cook in a hotel back home. My adopted father taught me how to cook. The embassy was looking for someone to cook and I was selected. I do enjoy it. If you’re doing something you love, you do it with ease because it’s something you love. If you are doing a job where there is pressure and you’re not enjoying it, then it is not good.”
Bonkoungou has been at Manna’s since 2001. “I am the senior chef,” he smiles warmly. “You have to be very careful when you are cooking for people. You have to make sure that all the seasonings are right, but also that all the temperatures are correct: the ovens, the food that needs to be kept cool. Everything has to be controlled. You cannot have any spoiled food. I am an all-around cook. I am a Muslim, but I do cook all types of food–I just don’t eat all types of food.”
A practicing Muslim, Bonkoungou said, “With my friends, I celebrate every holiday, and my friends celebrate Muslim holidays like Ramadan. I celebrate Christian holidays with them and I enjoy it with them. You should not separate yourself because we are not different. Holidays and religion should not separate us.”
The comfortable Diasporan loves his Bronx-Harlem “commute.”
“I know New York City and I love New York,” said Bonkoungou, wearing his affection on his sleeve. Speaking of which, the phone rings and, prompted post call, he admits, “Yes, I am with someone special right now. Family plans for the future? Of course.”
As for his work for and with the people, Bonkoungou told the AmNews, “I love politics–but good politics! I want the world to stop the violence. People are trying to act like they’re gangsters when they are not gangsters.
“I want African people and Africans on the Continent to be united. We are brothers and sisters, and we should give each other as much love as we can–and until that happens, come and try some of my candied yams or macaroni and cheese or my peach cobbler!”
Tune into Bonkoungou’s show on www.whcr.org Tuesday 2-4 p.m. or call (212) 491-4685.