Home Education and Careers Neumann University ‘punk rock’ Professor Janis Chakars launches collaborative benefit album for...

Neumann University ‘punk rock’ Professor Janis Chakars launches collaborative benefit album for Ukraine

Janis Chakars is a musician and professor at Neumann University.

Janis Chakars, a Neumann University communications professor who has played in punk rock bands for 30 years, is doing what he does best to raise money for Ukraine. On March 23, he launched Band Together, a compilation of songs by nine American and seven Ukrainian bands to support the war-torn country.

“Solidarity with the oppressed is a core principle of Catholic social teaching,” he says. “Ukrainians are under attack and being deprived of life, limb, and livelihood. The Franciscan tradition calls us to walk with the suffering, and while we may not be able to do that literally in Ukraine, we can try to do that in other ways.”

As a member of Citizens Arrest, a band that has toured Eastern Europe, Chakars used his music industry connections and research skills to collect the songs in a matter of weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine. Although fellow musicians were eager to donate their art, Chakars was shaken by some of the emails he received.

A member of the band Kat, with two of its players trapped in Kharkiv, wrote, “This is the song I want you to use. I’ll try to send you the lyrics, but I’m joining the army.” Two members of Death Pill, a three-woman group, have fled to Poland. A member of another band told Chakars to select any of their songs for the album because not one band member had access to a working computer.

“It was important to me that Ukrainian bands be included because I think their voices need to be heard right now,” Chakars said. “And Americans need to be in solidarity with them.”  He confesses that “On an emotional level, I’m devastated by this war, and I worry all the time about those people.”

American contributions to the album include songs by punk icon Ted Leo, Erin Incoherent and the bands Unsane, Citizens Arrest, and Under Attack.

The requested donation for the compilation, available on Band Camp at https://bandtogether.bandcamp.com/releases, is $10. According to Chakars, most people who buy the collection are giving more than the asking price.

Proceeds go to Razom (a Ukrainian word that means “together”), a Ukrainian-American 501c3 that has already delivered tons of medical supplies to people in Ukraine. According to Chakars, “They have a fleet of drones to scout clear routes into Ukraine for their trucks.”

The album cover was designed by Chakars’ teenage son, using a photo that Chakars took in 2019 when he visited Latvia and Ukraine. “There was a war in the east then (in Donbos),” he explains, “but life in Kyiv was normal. Now, all of those people I saw walking through the main square are hiding in a basement, fleeing to another country, or fighting with Ukrainian forces.”

On March 29, Chakars hosted a show on 98.5 WNUW, the university’s radio station, during which he played tracks from the album and explained why support of Ukraine is critical.