Like many millions around the world, Jānis Čakars was horrified by the events of February 24, 2022. On that day, Russia began an unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine that not only shocked, but also changed the world. A terrifying reality began to set in – if Russia was willing to brutally invade one former Soviet republic, then other former Soviet republics (Moldova, Georgia, the Baltic States), perhaps even former Soviet satellite states like Poland and Bulgaria, would likely be next.
Čakars, a professor of communication and digital media at Neumann University, is of Latvian descent, and, having taught Latvian history for ten years at the Philadelphia Latvian School, was well aware of the horrors of Soviet occupation. Like many, feelings of helplessness grew as the grim events unfolded, but Čakars quickly realized that there was still something he could do to help.
When not teaching, Čakars is also a musician, and has played guitar in multiple punk and hardcore bands in Philadelphia for decades. He has played with groups like Citizens Arrest and Grey C.E.L.L., among others. Čakars is also no stranger to activism – he, along with bandmate Derik Moore, compiled a Black Lives Matter inspired collection called 19 Notes on a Broken System in 2020. In a few short days, using his existing contacts in the music scene as well as reaching out to Ukrainian artists, Čakars helped compile Band Together: A Benefit for Ukraine – an album that contains songs by both American and Ukrainian performers. All proceeds from the album go to the charity Razom.
Though many of the songs on the album are in a punk or hardcore style, Band Together has an eclectic assortment of bands, with many styles represented, like folk, post-punk, metal, and others. Ukrainian artists on the record include Morwan, Kat, Pušča, Terrorscum, Sasha Boole, Death Pill, and The Raw. Many well-known American bands participated as well, including punk singer-songwriter Ted Leo, who provided the new song ‘The Clearing of the Land’ (inspired by the invasion), as well as groups like noise rock stalwarts Unsane, Brooklyn-based The World/Inferno Friendship Society, and many representatives of the Philadelphia scene, like Erin Incoherent, FRIGHT, and Cross Control. Čakars’ own bands Grey C.E.L.L. and Citizens Arrest also feature on the compilation. Though some of the songs were written long before recent events, some of the songs are eerily prescient, like the World Inferno song with its lyric ‘We got our dignity, we fought for that’ (bringing to mind the Ukrainian ‘Revolution of Dignity’), as well as Citizens Arrest’s song about nuclear war.
It was fortunate that Čakars could get recordings from some of the Ukrainian artists in time – events being so fast moving in Ukraine, many of the groups’ members have been displaced and some have enlisted in the effort to defend their homeland. Members of Death Pill, the first all-female punk band in Ukraine, were forced to flee, while Kat, from Kharkiv, are enduring relentless, indiscriminate bombing, Sasha Boole is serving in the army, and members of Pušča have been helping the effort by weaving camouflage nets.
Čakars is also planning a cassette release of the album in the near future, with possible releases on vinyl and CD as well. As there has been a lot of interest in this project, there may also be a possibility of a Volume 2, with artists from additional areas, like the Baltic States. Concerts featuring some of the American groups on Band Together are also planned, initially in the Philadelphia area, but potentially elsewhere. There has been a lot of interest in the project, and there have been articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Punk News, NPR, and other sites, and Čakars has an interview planned with the Latvian magazine Ir.
With his decades of performing in punk bands, Čakars even inspired a Latvian band to name themselves after him. The band – Jānis Čakars – was active in the 2010s, but appears to have gone on hiatus.
Čakars is also the editor of a forthcoming book – Information Wars in the Baltic States: Russia’s Long Shadow – which was completed right as the Russian army was massing on the the Ukrainian border.
Band Together: A Benefit for Ukraine is available as a digital download via Bandcamp.
Band Together : A Benefit for Ukraine
1. Morwan – Где-то там вдали
2. Ted Leo – The Clearing of the Land
3. Кат – Атлантида
4. The World/Inferno Friendship Society – Cats Are Not Lucky Creatures
5. Citizens Arrest – Death Threat
6. Death Pill – Расцарапаю Ебало
7. Unsane – Cracked Up
8. The Raw – 3a ветром
9. Grey C.E.L.L. – Opinion Piece
10. Пуща (Pušča) – Jardin de Verre Brisé
11. FRIGHT – Hands Claw Open Eyes
12. Terrorscum – Battered Knees
13. Under Attack – Mentally Collapsed
14. Cross Control – Diadem
15. Erin Incoherent – Songs for the Revolution
16. Sasha Boole – Плющ (Ivy)