Chief James Afolabi Afolayan MON, MFR popularly known as Jagua was born 4th July 1946 in Iludun-Oro Kwara state Nigeria.
He managed on his own to finish secondary education but his journey into entertainment started when he was just 8years old in his paternal hometown Iludun-Oro where he formed the Iludun-Oro Jolly Mambo. It was a singing group.
The young Afolabi then go about adding spice to social gatherings by singing… Yes he was a singer and a great dancer too.
He did this for some years until he met the doyen of Nigeria theatre, the iconic Hubert Ogunde.
James Afolabi learnt that Chief Ogunde and his group will be performing in Esie so he made plans to be there, saved up some money from selling bush meat so he could make it to the show.
On getting there he was intrigued by Chief Ogunde’s musical rendition and decided he was going to move to Lagos to have chief train him in music.
James Afolabi whose family was mainly into buying and selling expressed his desire to go fully into music to his family and they never objected despite the fact that such professions was seen as mainly for the “never do well” in those days.
Few days after a family member brought young Afolabi to Lagos and they headed to Chief Ogunde’s office and joined a very long queue of people wanting to join the group.
Eventually it was Afolabi Afolayan’s turn to audition and though baba Ogunde thought he was very young, he also saw that he was very determined. He then handed daddy to his first wife saying ” Gba omo e ni” ( take him, he is your child).
Afolabi said he never knew baba Ogungbe was also into acting. He said he admired his stage presence.
Afolabi said for him as a young person it was divine whenever baba graced the stage.
Afolabi Afolayan considers Baba Ogunde as a father and his first wife who took him in a mother.
He was with Chief Ogunde and family for 2years (1960-1962).
Afolabi Afolayan also trained under Akinsola Ogungbe before he teamed up with his friend Ishola Ogunsola aka Isho Pepper to form the Afolayan Ogunsola Theatre group in 1964.
Afolabi was the main singer and instrumentalist in the group while Ishola composed more of the stage performances.
The performances was rendered in Yoruba language.
Besides other productions, I remember they did “Iyawo alalubosa”together…back then, it was quite popular.
Besides music, ‘Folabi( like his friends and family calls him)was known to be the fun guy at every gathering.
He just loves making people laugh and as time goes on he realizes he seem to be more interested in the comedy aspect of acting and went for it.
He met very young Elyzar Taylor a Sierraleonian who was still a student at the time.
It was Elyzar who gave him the stage name Jagua and advised him to act in pidgin English as that will cut across every tribe and make them more widely accessible.
Jagua also called Elyzar Grace on stage. That was how Jagua play Group was born.
They had their first major television show in 1968 with RKTV Kaduna.
Jagua and Grace got married in 1970. Grace was juggling marriage and the group while still in school.
With God by their side and love from friends and fans who we see as family, the Jagua brand became widely accepted.
Jagua comedy was in all the NTA stations, was in almost every Nigerian home.
It is devoid of vulgar languages…you don’t have to send your children to bed because you want to watch Jagua…it is actually a family programme and many children look up to it.
Jagua comedy entertained and educated most of us via TV screens and live stage performances.
They were also involved in charity causes.
They entertained the less privileged for free, raised money to champion charitable causes, entertained our troops abroad (ECOMOG).
In the very early years of Nollywood, Jagua and his group made some home videos which was released in VHS cassettes but most of his works are with the NTA.
Jagua was recognised by the Nigerian government for his works hence his national honours.
As a father, he was a great father and friend.
The laughter never stops on stage.
He was the best. He died Oct 5th 2000.
Years on, we still hear his signature tune “my belle ooo my head o”.