Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

The Philly-led rock album that’s raising money for Ukraine

In 2020, Janis Chakars organized a Black Lives Matter benefit with Philly bands. Now he's put together a benefit album for Ukraine that also includes musicians from that war torn country.

Janis Chakars, 50, of Roxborough, a professor at Neumann University and organizer for the record, (right), and Derik Moore, 47, pose for a portrait in Philadelphia, Pa., on Friday, March 25, 2022. They gathered seven Ukrainian bands and nine American bands to create the Band Together album to benefit Ukraine.
Janis Chakars, 50, of Roxborough, a professor at Neumann University and organizer for the record, (right), and Derik Moore, 47, pose for a portrait in Philadelphia, Pa., on Friday, March 25, 2022. They gathered seven Ukrainian bands and nine American bands to create the Band Together album to benefit Ukraine.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Janis Chakars is a Philadelphia punk-rock guitar player and college professor who was visiting Latvia in 2019 when he took a trip to the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv.

“The war had already started in the east,” Chakars said last week, speaking from his office at Neumann University in Delaware County, where he teaches communications and digital media.

“[I was] sitting in a cafe and watching people go by, but with this looming presence of the war,” says Chakars, 50, who lives in Roxborough, and is of Latvian descent. “So when this war started, all I could think about was watching those people, and that now they’re all under attack.”

While in Kyiv, Chakars took a photo of a statue of a woman in a Soviet-era park painted over in the blue of the Ukrainian flag. That image — with graphic design by Chakars’ son Vilnis — is on the cover of Band Together: A Benefit for Ukraine, the album of American and Ukrainian bands that Chakars and his neighbor Derik Moore have compiled to support humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine. All proceeds from the album go to the Ukrainian relief organization RAZOM.

Band Together is one of many music efforts underway to raise awareness and money for victims of the Russian war in Ukraine.

On April 8, a Philly Loves Ukraine benefit headlined by Balkan brass band the West Philadelphia Orchestra and featuring choral group Sing Slavic will be held at the Rotunda in West Philly.

Ukrainian punk band Beton recorded a new version of The Clash’s “London Calling” with lyrics rewritten with the surviving members of the British punk band’s permission. (“Kyiv calling, now don’t look to us,” Beton vocalist Andriy Zholub sings. “Phony Putinmania has bitten the dust.”)

And Ukrainian band Antytila, whose members are in the Ukrainian Army, went viral last week with a plea from singer Taras Topolya for the band to join Ed Sheeran’s March 29 Concert for Ukraine benefit scheduled in Manchester, England, via video link. The band were refused a slot due to their military status, because of the Sheeran concert’s “purely humanitarian” purpose.

Philly’s Band Together benefit album features two hard-core punk bands that Chakars and Moore play in — Citizens Arrest and Grey C.E.L.L. South Philly singer Erin Incoherent contributed a brand-new song, as did veteran punk songwriter Ted Leo, who wrote and recorded a song that takes aim at Vladimir Putin’s imperial ambitions called “Clearing of the Land.” Leo is playing a solo show at The Lounge at the World Cafe Live on April 3.

Noise rock legends Unsane are on the album, and Brooklyn punk-cabaret band World/Inferno Friendship Society contributed their first new music released since the death of singer Jack Terricloth last year.

On the album’s page on the Bandcamp music site — where it is on sale for $10, with a cassette release in the works — Chakars writes: “Death, displacement, destruction. The war in Ukraine is an atrocity … we need to work to overcome Russia’s invasion and aid the victims of this unprovoked war.”

The compilation includes eight bands based in Ukraine that Chakars was able to contact in the days following the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.

When the war began, Chakars had no connections within the Ukrainian music community. But through Bandcamp and Google he made contact with several Ukrainian bands eager to participate. “It was one of those ‘God bless the internet’ things, which is not how I usually feel,” he says, with a laugh.

The riot-grrl band Death Pill’s singer Marianna emailed him a song just before fleeing Kyiv. “I can’t work anywhere,” she wrote. “I’m a music teacher. We’re just waiting for the end of war.” Ukrainian folk singer Sasha Boole, who ends the album with a lovely fingerpicked lullaby whose title translates as “Ivy,” told Chakars that he had put his guitar down to join the army.

“It was important to me that Ukrainian bands be included because I think their voice need to be heard right now,” Chakars says. “And Americans need to be in solidarity with them. So we’re trying to do that, and also raise some money that could help.”

Chakars and Moore wanted to get Band Together out quickly so the money raised could provide help while it’s urgently needed. The compilation came out last Thursday, and so far, $1,000 has been sent to RAZOM.

The duo have previous experience benefit album experience.

In 2020, they put together 19 Notes on a Broken System, a Philly punk compilation featuring the Dead Milkmen and The Ramoms that raised money to aid those arrested in Philadelphia during the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd.

“That was designed to raise money for Black Lives Matter-related causes,” he says. “So when this war broke out, we knew how to do it. The concept is little different this time. It’s not just Philly bands. And I’m worried to death that somebody on this comp is going to die before this whole thing is over.”

The biggest name on Band Together is Leo, the politically minded singer-guitarist who grew up in Plainfield, N.J., and who led the band Ted Leo & the Pharmacists for 20 years and has teamed with Aimee Mann in The Both. He’s played with Chakars in several bands.

For Leo, Band Together “is a way, as an artist, to actually have some power in the world, when we’re all trying to contribute something. Because with the situation in Ukraine, we’re all sitting around now wondering what to do.”

Leo said he had been thinking about expansionist regimes in history and how state violence is often preceded by softer forms of oppression. “The first mistake we made was allowing them to drive a wedge,” he sings over the song’s martial rhythm.

“This gave me an opportunity,” he said. Leo wishes he had more time to work on “The Clearing of the Land,” on which he played all the instruments himself. “I’m almost a little embarrassed that I wasn’t able to spend a couple more minutes on it. After you let go of something like that, it takes a couple of days before you think of tweaks you could have done to make it better. But I really only had a couple of days because of the urgency of the deadline.”

For more information and to purchase Band Together: A Benefit for Ukraine go to: